These are just a few of the labels you’re going to want to avoid at your next professional networking event; really, at any event. The good news is that it’s not as hard as it sounds for those people who can sometimes have a hard time getting the conversation going.
Networking events are all about communication. Sure, you can wander around handing out your resume or business card, but if you don’t have a little something extra to offer with it the recipient is going to have a harder time placing you when they have time to review the materials they collected.
Keep that in mind as you read about these five good conversation topics for professional networking events.
This may seem like the most obvious answer, and the easiest topic to deliver on at the critical moment. The truth is, you’d only be half right. A successful networking meet-and-greet is often determined in the introduction. You’ve got a small window of time to present yourself in an interesting and memorable way, and that can be a challenge.
There’s actually a bit of science to talking about yourself if it doesn’t come naturally, and it pays to practice. Think of ways you can combine relevant facts with amusing anecdotes, and have a few witty retorts to stock questions like “What do you do?” and “What do you think (about this event)?”
2. Event Topics
Try to avoid showing up at an event without knowing the theme, main speakers or the likely mood and interests of the other event-goers. Going to a networking event isn’t exactly the same as going to a cocktail party, although acting like it is not necessarily a bad idea.
That means you should keep it loose, but know what’s going on. Playing the “too cool for school” card will only get you so far with a certain subset of laissez faire attendees. The rest of the crowd – and the people you want to be talking to – likely spend their time with a sense of purpose. Of course you can still have fun (and you should!); just do a little research before you show up and keep the info handy.
3. Trending Pop Culture News
We live in a Digital Age and most Web portals incorporate some kind of news media feed. This could be your first access point to what’s trending; other sources include social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter or news aggregators like Digg or Fark, depending on your level of exposure.
You don’t have to be a pop culture trivia nerd – just make sure you take half a minute to scan what’s trending. This will give you invaluable tidbits that can be folded into the icebreaker that starts with, “Did you hear about X? I just read about it in Y. Do you read Y?”
4. Industry News
In short, know your business. Even if you are new to your business, try and learn something new and trending about it before heading off to that networking event. This is the same as #3, but in place of whatever YouTube video just went viral you can talk about what’s hot in your field.
Sourcing this information is going to depend on your area of specialization. Subscribe to industry and trade magazines/websites, scan industry-related blogs and talk with colleagues to stir up ideas for conversation. This can help you to start talking as well as keep you in the loop with conversations that are happening around you, and put you in a position to comment intelligently when you get the chance.
5. General News
This is just a matter of keeping informed, more as insurance against being caught unawares by an unfamiliar topic. Whether national or local news, some things happen that just become hot-button issues and you should be ready to talk about them – diplomatically.
The death knell of a conversation is the phrase, “Oh? I haven’t heard about that.” The only time it’s smart to say this is when you do it intentionally to draw someone into a conversation by letting them talk about something they know. Otherwise, you want to be the one offering up interesting tidbits, especially when the information is everywhere (e.g., a presidential election).
Regardless of what topic you choose, try and keep it light and uncontroversial. Avoid making sweeping statements about political affiliation, religion, your position on contentious issues and the like. A common mistake all people make is assuming that most others think like they do, especially among professional peer groups. The truth, though, is that in cases like this you’ll never know you’ve burned a bridge until you try and cross it later.