Break the Ice Without Breaking a Sweat

If you’re one of those rare individuals who isn’t intimidated by mingling with people you don’t know, you need not read any further. But if you find making small talk painful, but necessary, for your career or social life, read on for tips on how to smoothly sail through the nerve-wracking waters of meeting new people.

You don’t have to be a brilliant conversationalist to form connections with those you meet. No matter the end goal, the process starts with a simple introduction. Approach each person with a smile, a handshake and steady eye contact, and say, “Hi. I don’t know many people here, so I thought I’d introduce myself. My name is —.” Then, get the conversation rolling with one of these starters:

  • What brings you to this event?
  • I'm an account manager with XYZ Compnay and the father of three teenagers. What about you?
  • My goal today is to meet new people, so tell me about yourself. 
  • What have you learned since you've been at this event?
  • What interesting people have you met here so far?
  • I've been out of touch with the news all day. Have I missed anything?
  • This is a delightful event venue. What do you know about its history?
  • This area of town is new to me. Do you have any recommendations for where to eat or shop?
  • I see you've had a chance to go through the buffet line. Any suggestions on what is worth trying? Or avoiding?
  • I've just spent my day reading five years of annual reports. How about you?
  • I see you work for LMN Company. What are your responsibilities there?
  • I'm new to this area. How long have you lived here?
  • How is your day going?
  • I noticed you talking to Alice a few minutes ago. I've known her for several years. How do you know her?

Other timely subjects, such as the topic of the event’s formal remarks or a presentation, can be launching pads for conversation. The news of the past 24 hours is always good for starting discussions relating to sports, business, entertainment and current events. Scan the day’s headlines prior to the event, but avoid personal observations about politics, religion or other controversial subjects.

If you have an opportunity to see the guest list prior to the event, study what organizations will be represented so you can prepare comments or questions relevant to them.

Arrive at the event when it starts and meet others as they arrive and before conversation groups form. Approach people who are alone and probably eager to meet someone.

Don’t let a conversation start and then sputter to an awkward stop. The key is to listen attentively to the other person and follow up with questions and comments. Repeat the person’s name so you can remember it. Being a good conversationalist requires being a good listener.

It is sometimes just as hard to break away gracefully from a conversation as it is to break into it. If you find yourself in this situation, try this: “I don’t want to monopolize your time, but I would like your business card. It was a pleasure to meet you.”

And then move on, to the next person, to the next conversation. The more people you visit with, the easier it will become.

Networking, Meetings

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