If you listen closely after someone asks, “So what do you do?” you can almost hear the other person’s eyes roll as they recite their 30-second elevator pitch.
But talking to new people doesn’t have to be such a drag.
There are ways to get the conversation going without resorting to irritating clichés.
Check out these 17 icebreakers that will help ease you into an engaging conversation with people you’ve never met before.
“What kind of volunteer work do you do?”
Korngold says she especially enjoys meeting people who work on nonprofit boards because she gets to learn about how an organization was founded, how the person got involved with it, and about the “fascinating group dynamics of boards.”
“Are you originally from [wherever the event is], or did your business bring you here?”
The conversation will allow both parties to talk about themselves, which is the ultimate goal of career-savvy people attending a networking event, Gottsman says.
“Man, these networking events can be so crazy. Mind if I join you over here where it’s a little quieter?”
Since they are alone and possibly looking miserable, they are probably uncomfortable with the social situation, Coombs says. By initiating the interaction, you can help to put them at ease and get them in the flow of a conversation.
“Hmmm, I’m not quite sure what that dish is. Do you know?”
Ask about the dish they think looks good or the mystery dish, Coombs writes onCareerealism.com. “Who knows, you might leave the buffet with a better plate of food AND a new contact!”
“What motivated you to come to this event?”
The answer to this question will give you insight into your conversation partner’s career goals, and you may even find that you can help them to achieve those goals, Brustein says.
Not only will they be flattered, but you can also ask a follow-up question about where they got the item that could lead to a fun conversation. One caveat: Don’t fake it, Lederman warns. People can easily sniff out disingenuousness.
“I’ll be honest, the only person I know here is the bartender, and I just met him two minutes ago. Mind if I introduce myself?”
Other suggestions include, “So, on a scale of 1 to undrinkable, how terrible is the Chardonnay?”
“Would you have any insight or advice on …”
You can ask about anything from a work project to their opinion on which new car you should buy. But just be sure to genuinely listen and reflect on their advice, Lederman says. As the old saying goes, we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.
‘What did you think of the speaker?’
Asking about the speaker, the group discussion, or even the restaurants around the area will give you both a chance to contribute to the conversation, Lederman says.
What’s your reality-TV guilty pleasure?’
“It’s funny how quickly you can bond with someone who admits to sharing your secret obsession,” Hodak says.
“Hi, I’ve never been to this event before. You look like a regular — any tips you could give me on what to expect? What are the best sessions here?”
“Did you hear about [insert big news event]?”
This topic will get a discussion going, and it will show that you keep up-to-date with current events. That’s a win-win, Leopre says.
“Did you catch the game yesterday?”
If you spy a Red Sox cap in the crowd, go up the person and say, “Red Sox fan, huh? Did you catch the game yesterday?” writes Coombs on Careerealism.com.
Or if you are a sports fan and overhear a sports conversation, step in and say, “Are you talking about …?” and voice your own opinion on the big game.
“What do you do for fun when you’re not working?”
Asking about someone’s after-work hobbies is “semi-personal, yet still professionally acceptable to ask,” she says.
“This can bring some levity and humor into the conversation while also letting you see what lights them up, what brings them real joy,” White says.
“Hey, aren’t you friends with [fill in random name]?”
If they say no, feign a mild surprised reaction and conversation will commence.
“Sometimes, the easiest way to meet someone is to offer a handshake and say, ‘Hi, I’m Peter.'”