Networking 101: Two simple ways to start a conversation


So there you are at your bar association or chamber of commerce mixer. Lots of people you don’t know but would like to meet. “I should talk to them. . .”. but you don’t because you don’t know what to say. So you find a familiar face and talk to them instead. Sadly, another networking opportunity has passed you by. Oh well, maybe next time. . .

If this sounds familiar, I’m here to rescue you. I’ll share two very simple ways to initiate a conversation with someone you don’t know.

Before I do, I should point out that if you are at a function where the attendees are expected to mix and meet, like a bar association or chamber of commerce meeting, talking to people you don’t know is expected and not at all hard to do. Just introduce yourself: “My name is David, what’s your’s?”


After that, ask them what they do. Let them do the talking. Ask more questions. Ask for their card.

Of course they’ll ask what you do and ask for your card. Presto-chango, new contact.

What about when you’re not at a mixer or other organized function where meeting new people is part of the agenda? How do you start a conversation when conversation isn’t expected?

This is also easy. You can either,

  1. Ask a question, or
  2. Pay a compliment.

“Do you know where the rest rooms are?” “Hey, I like your tie?” “Is that a Coach bag? It’s gorgeous.” “What time does the program start?” “Do you work near here?”

Either way, you will get a response and a conversation will have ensued. What to do next depends on the circumstances. When in doubt, another question usually keeps the conversation going.

What do you do to break the ice with people you don’t know? Please share your experiences in the comments.


Networking 101: What Do I Do After I’ve Made a New Contact?


An attorney emailed and asked:

“Last week, I met a man who is the head of the [an influential association]. Good contact. I sent him an email saying nice to meet you, he responded likewise and hopes to see me around. Now what?”

Great question. What do you do after you meet someone? How do you develop a relationship that will bear fruit?

Of course there isn’t a simple answer. Each situation is as different as the individuals involved. And while every nascent networking relationship has the potential to grow and develop, it’s possible that it won’t. The chemistry isn’t there, the timing isn’t right or one of the parties simply isn’t amenable to taking the relationship to a higher level.

So you meet a lot of people, try a lot of things, and see what works. Most relationships probably won’t pan, out but that’s okay. You only need a few good ones.

When you meet a new contact, here’s what to do next:

First, never leave anything to the other party. Always take the initiative to move things forward. You invite them, you call them, you ask them. The reason we give people our business cards when we meet them, isn’t so they have our contact information, it’s to get theirs.

So you’ve done that. You took the lead and emailed “nice to meet you”. That’s good. He replied. Even better. The door is open to future contact and there is now a chance that he will remember you.

Second, when we meet new people, during those uncomfortable first few minutes where we exchange small talk, we are searching for “commonalities”. When we find them (a school, a mutual friend, a shared interest in golf, for example) we are united in that common interest and we have something we can talk about. When you find something in common with your new contact, however banal, you can use that to continue the conversation at a later time.

So, did you discover any commonalities with your new contact? Did you discuss anything that you can use to continue the conversation? If not, in your next communication, find a reason to ask him a question. Ask if he knows someone you know or what he thinks about an idea that is important to his industry. Share an article you think he may like and ask for his thoughts.

Third, and most important, networking isn’t about you getting something from the other person, at least not initially. In the beginning, networking is the search for people with problems you can help solve or objectives you can help meet. I am not necessarily referring to your legal services.

What does the other person want? Where is his pain? What is on his mind? You need to find out so you can help.

You might have information that can help. You might introduce him to someone. Or give him a referral.

You get what you want by first helping other people get what they want. The more you give, the more (eventually) you will get.

So, if you don’t know what this individual wants, find out. Ask him–“how can I help you with. . .?” Or ask people who know him or his organization what might be needed. Or do some research.

Once you know what someone wants, look for ways to help him get it. If you can’t help them yourself, turn to your existing network of clients and contacts and find someone who can. If your contacts can’t help, they may know someone who can.

Your role is to position yourself as the “go to” person when people need something. You connect people with problems with people who have solutions. In doing so, you help both people and you also help yourself.