Going to a networking event can be incredibly overwhelming, when you’re nervous or new. Not only is there the initial worry and anticipation of what you’re walking into, when you go to an event, there’s also a panic over what to say, when you get there. That’s why you need a plan in place – a plan that not only gets you in the room, but one that also shows you how to start a networking conversation, once you get there!

Luckily, this blog gives you solutions for both of those situations. It’s going to help you reduce those nerves around attending a new networking event, as well as giving you some handy conversation starters, to help once you’re in the room. [If you’re wondering if you even need to bother with traditional offline networking events, check out our blog entitled Has traditional networking died as a result of social media?] 

Getting in the room – your first step to networking conversation!

Often, it’s that initial first step that is the most daunting. If you’re nervous and new, your first goal is to actually show up and get in the room! For some it is a little easier, if they go with a friend. This could be another local business owner or another VA you’ve met online or in-person. (Check out our VA Membership, if you’d like to meet and network with other VAs!) So with that being said, here’s how you can make that a little less overwhelming:

  1. Cut the excuses and go to the event! You’ve taken the first step and booked yourself in for an event, now you need to schedule it into your calendar and commit to showing up.
  2. Give yourself a little pep talk, before you get out of the car. Remind yourself how awesome you are for committing to show up and remember what your original networking goal is for this event.
  3. Once inside, navigate to someone who you can relate to – it could be the person standing alone at the side of the room, another female, or someone you know.
  4. There’s a high chance you’re not the only person who’s new at this event. Look for someone else who looks a little uncomfortable and/or lost and make it your goal to go and help them feel more included. 
  5. Go all in and find a group you can join. You can then introduce yourself to several people at once!

Turning up to the event is one of the biggest hurdles you’ll face, especially if you’re naturally nervous or introverted. But you’re in – now you need to make the most of this event and start talking to the other people in the room.

Easy conversation starters once you’re inside a networking event

It can feel very overwhelming to start a conversation at a networking event. The secret is to ensure you have some conversation starters in mind, before you attend. This gives you a chance to try them out for size, as well as break the ice once you’re at a networking event.

There are several different ways you can start a conversation, so here’s some ideas that have been broken down into different, easy-to-remember categories, to get you started.

Be willing to share

You never know how someone else is feeling at a networking event. For some, they may look confident but are inwardly incredibly nervous, whilst others may be natural introverts and find being the first to talk, really challenging. So be willing to share a little of yourself first. Here’s some simple ways to break the ice:

  • Hi, I’m [your name], a VA for [niche area] and this is my first time at this event. 
  • I don’t know many people here, so I wanted to introduce myself. I’m [name] and I’m the owner of [business name].
  • I find networking events quite overwhelming! Do you mind if I join you for a while?
  • I’m trying to reach out and meet new people and we haven’t yet met officially. So Hi, I’m [your name]!
  • As we’re sat next to each other, I thought it was only polite to introduce myself. So, nice to meet you! I’m [your name].

Get other people talking

It can be quite hard to get people talking, especially if you’ve never met before. Here’s a few suggested questions you can ask, to break the ice and get them talking:

  • What do you do?
  • What brought you here today?
  • It seems like a busy event – have you been to other events like this before?
  • What’s your story? How did you get into the business you’re in?
  • Do you know [someone you know/someone at the event/the event host]?

Ask for advice – a great way to start a networking conversation

Everyone loves to feel needed and respected. If you want to boost someone’s confidence and build rapport – what better way than to ask for advice. Here are some suitable suggestions:

  • Do you have any advice for a networking newbie?
  • Have you tried the food? What would you recommend?
  • Mind if I join you? I heard you talking about [subject] earlier, and would love to hear more.
  • What would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve [learnt here today/in business so far]?
  • You seem very [confident/friendly/outgoing] at this event. What’s your secret to making it look effortless?

Pay them a compliment

Complimenting the person in front of you is a lovely way to break the ice and boost confidence. Of course, it goes without saying that you should only pay compliments if you mean them, so always be on the lookout for something nice to say about someone! Here’s a few ideas to get you started:

  • I love your [shoes, earrings etc]! 
  • You seem very confident at networking with everyone. What do you do for a living?
  • I can see you’re really passionate about your industry. It’s really inspiring!
  • I couldn’t help but notice how great you were with people. Are you in sales?
  • Are you a coach? You seem very relaxed in this type of environment.

Have an exit strategy

Once you’ve been in conversation with someone, you will naturally want to end it at some stage – and that can often be easier said than done! This is why you need to have an easy exit strategy in mind. Here’s some exit strategy ideas that can help:

  • I’ve really enjoyed talking with you. Can I take a business card, as I’d love to stay in touch?
  • It looks like the queue [bar/food/toilet] has died down, so I’d better make a move. It was lovely to meet you.
  • I really must [pop to the ladies/grab a drink], before we sit back down.
  • Have you met [another attendee]. Let me introduce you. [Introduce them]. I’ll leave the two of you to talk. It was lovely to meet you!
  • Thank you for taking time to talk with me. I’d better mingle a little more, before the event ends and everyone leaves – but it was lovely to meet you.

Going to a networking event can be incredibly overwhelming, when you’re nervous or new. And that’s totally understandable. There’s the initial worry and anticipation of what you’re walking into, but there’s also a panic over what to say, when you get there. 

But by following the advice above, you now know how you can make walking into the room a little easier. You should also have an idea or two for some great networking conversation starters, to help get people talking, once you’re inside!

If you’re looking to network with other VAs, why not check out our very own VA Membership? It’s an online resource for VAs, offering you the support and help you need to grow your VA business. VA Membership is an awesome resource for VAs, no matter where you’re based – and who knows, you may even find other VAs in your area who can buddy up with you for future in-person networking events!