Success (not her real name) walked into an event where she knew nobody and at once she felt out of place.

Suddenly she caught a glimpse of someone she thought knew and waved with a big smile. The challenge was she didn’t actually know the person and the guy looked at her like she had lost her mind.

One of the hardest things about networking events is just getting a conversation going with someone without being awkward about it.

It gets harder when you’re both strangers meeting for the first time. Wouldn’t it be nice to have go-to tricks that can spark stories and trigger a few great laughs and hopefully, help you to feel more  connected to people?

Here are some easy ways to break the ice:

1.   Go Fishing at The Food Table

While waiting in line for the food, start talking with the person next to you. This is a great opportunity because you already have something in common: the food.

Here is an idea:

“Hmm, I’m not quite sure what that dish is, do you know?” Or

“This chicken is a little dry, huh?”

2.   Find A Loner

If you see someone standing alone in the corner and looking unhappy, walk up and introduce yourself. Here is an icebreaker:

“Man, these networking events can be so tasking. Mind if I join you over here where it’s a little quiet?”

Odds are this person is willing to share his corner with you, and if he isn’t, don’t force the conversation. Look for another corner.

3. Compliment Them

Everyone loves compliments, especially when they are feeling insecure (as most people do at networking events). Here is an idea:

“Cute shoes! Where  did you get them?”


4.   Talk About Sports

People (mostly men) love talking about football. See someone holding an Arsenal keyring? Say something like,

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“Arsenal fan, huh? Q: What does a Gunners fan do when his team has won the Champions League? A: He turns off the PlayStation.”

Laugh but run, because you might get punched in the face.

5.   Hi, I’m ‘Zashakulu’. Try a simple introduction

A simple introduction actually works. Just be sure you have something to follow up so that you don’t end up staring at each other in silence. (Note: Please use your real name, instead of “Zashakulu.”)

6.      “Alright, I’ve got an awesome marketing joke for you.”

This only works if you actually have an awesome (or cheesy) industry related joke. As a marketer, you may try:

“What’s a personality trait of a bad marketer? Anti-social.” Gerrit?

No? I’ll show myself out.

7.      “Did you understand what the speaker meant when she said, ‘X’?”

This question creates an opportunity to start a chitchat with someone who was sitting next to you during a session. Formulating different interpretations of a talk can actually be kind of fun.

8.      “Well, while we’re here, I might as well introduce myself.”

In most conferences, chances are that you’ll have to wait in line for something. Use that time to do something productive, like meeting the people around you.

9.      Are you having issues with the Wi-Fi?”

The answer is almost always “yes.” People usually have war stories about their experience with  internet service providers.

Those are always great conversation starters.

10.  “Did you hear X speak?”

Being at the same conference creates a common ground, so use that to your advantage. It’s a great starting point that can go in a lot of different conversational directions.

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Did you read their work?

What did you think of the last speaker?

11.  “Do you know anything about the next session?”

This mostly works with the person seated beside you. At the end or towards the end of a current session you can ask this question.

If they do, they can tell you all about it. If they don’t, you can make speculations together.

12.  “Hey, aren’t you friends with [fill in random name]?”

See someone who looks slightly familiar?

Just walk up and ask if he or she is friends with someone you know.

He or she will tell you “yes or no,” that’s your lead-in for the conversation.

13.  “I’m tired of talking to my colleagues, I see them all the time. What are you guys talking about?”

It’s a line that’s usually effective because it’s most likely true. It shows an interest in getting to know the people who are there and creates an avenue to swap funny office stories, which is always a great icebreaker with someone unfamiliar.

14.  How did you come into this field?

This question is key to understanding who the person is in their profession. Inquire about how they got into their field. This kind of information will take you far in getting to know them on a deeper level.

15.  Does your company do anything outside of work for fun?

Learning about one’s company’s culture can be a captivating topic.

Compare and contrast each other’s stories, you may learn a thing or two to take back to your company.

16.  What made you come to this event?

This simple question could help bring you and another individual together under a common interest or passion.

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If you were both interested in the event for a certain reason, find out what that is.

17.  Is there someone that has been a particularly influential person in your career?

People usually have someone who has inspired them to bring out the best in their professional lives.

This question will allow you to get to know someone on a more deeper level.

18.  Do you hope to accomplish anything different this year?

As businessmen and women, we are continuously setting new goals and pushing to turn our plans into action. Take the time to hear what someone is trying to accomplish in their profession.

19.  What do you love most about your job?

Talking with another professional about their passion for work can be inspiring.

20.  What is one business lesson that has stuck with you over the years?

We learn something new every day. Sharing business lessons is how we grow and become better. This is one of the most important questions you can ask someone.

Having mastered the art of starting a conversation, you must now learn to stop once the time has come. Spoken with confidence, either of the following will get you out of any exchange:

“Hey, I’m going to get some food now that the line has died down a bit. It was great meeting you!”

 “Well, I think it’s time for me to head out. I would love to talk with you again, though. May I have your contact information?”

The High Growth Africa Summit is less than a month away and you can either take part in our giveaway for a free ticket, or you can buy your ticket before the price goes up again.