The hardest part about a networking event is drumming up the courage to sign up, get dressed and make yourself get out the door and to the event.

At least, that’s the truth for some people. For others, the hard part doesn’t come until you’re there and faced with dozens, if not hundreds, of strangers.

You’re supposed to talk to them. But how?

If you’ve ever done the simple “Hi” and a handshake followed by 10 seconds of awkwardness, you won’t be looking forward to that. There has to be some better approaches, right?

There are. If “Hi” and a handshake works for you, no problem. You’re a networking natural. If, however, you feel like you need an alternate approach to break the ice and get a conversation flowing, these eight unconventional networking icebreakers may be for you.

1. Card tricks.

Really? Card tricks as a way to break the ice? Yes. I’ve seen this one in use. If you know a little magic or simple card tricks, this can be an easy opener. “Hi. Pick a card!” You’ll want to keep it simple so you can finish the trick and move the conversation forward. It’s likely that the next words will be, “How did you learn to do that?” or “How did you do that?” Just like that, you have a topic of conversation.

You’ll want to read the crowd a little before doing this. Not everyone is going to like a magic trick as networking icebreakers. Look for people who are laughing, smiling, and relaxed.

Tip: Avoid any tricks that involve touching the other person (“Hey, there’s something behind your ear!”) or using something of theirs as a prop. They have no reason to trust you yet.

2. Come ready with trivia.

Just about everyone is fascinated by little bits of knowledge when they’re relevant. Do a little research before your event to find some great material. Here are a couple of ideas for networking icebreakers:

  • Facts about the city where you’re meeting. How was it settled? What’s the biggest money-making product? Is there a famous person in history who was born there?

  • What building/business is hosting the event? Dig into the history and see if there are some great tidbits to share.

  • Keep an eye on the news. Maybe there’s a great nugget beyond those headlines.

Trivia is a great way to show that you can hold your own in a conversation and you have some intelligence. “Did you know that this building was completely burned down by the Great Chicago Fire? They rebuilt it in brick so that wouldn’t happen again!”

Tip: Practice your delivery. You want to sound fun and conversational, not like a know-it-all.

3. Give a compliment.

Who doesn’t like to get a well-placed compliment? If you see a person that you’d like to talk to, look for anything that stands out to you. Is she wearing really great shoes? Does he have a cool tie clip? Phone? Glasses? If they are wearing or carrying something that really jumps out to you, it’s likely that they want it to have that effect.

You don’t have to go into detail. Just smile and say, “I really like your glasses” or whatever it is you want to compliment. This will naturally lead to conversation about where they got the item and possibly a return compliment. Boom. The ice is broken.

Don’t believe me? It’s been proven that receiving a compliment gives people the same sort of joy as being handed cash. That’s powerful stuff!

Tip: Stick to items like accessories or phones. Don’t compliment anyone on their overall appearance or (yikes!) any body parts. Even complimenting a smile or eyes will come across like a pickup line.

4. Ask for advice.

These networking icebreakers are especially easy if your event has a buffet or a drink menu. “I’ve never been here before. What’s their specialty?” “I’d like to try something new. What’s your favorite?” There’s always the chance that the person you ask is in the same boat as you, but even then you’ve bridged the gap and now you have something to talk about. Perhaps you can discover what’s on the menu together.

Asking for help or advice makes you immediately approachable because you’re putting the other person in a position of power. You’re acknowledging that you think they know more than you about something. Everyone likes that.

Tip: Keep it simple. Ask a question relevant to the situation you’re in – a networking event. Don’t open with “Should I have a 401K or an IRA?” And stay away from personal advice like, “Is this a good color for me?” Way too awkward.

5. Out of the box question.

You have to be a fairly outgoing person for these networking icebreakers, but you’ll really hear some interesting things if you do. If you start out with “Where do you work?” or “What do you do?” you’ll get the same, stale rehearsed answer that the other person has already given to a bunch of others at the event. But if you spring something new on them, you just might shock them into a smile.

“Hi. What’s your guilty pleasure song? Mine’s Mmm…Bop!” Okay, that might be bit extreme, but in one fell swoop, you’ve surprised their psyche. Studies have shown that people like to be surprised and it works great as a marketing tool. By adding in your own guilty pleasure song (or whatever you’re asking) you’ve removed the pressure. They don’t have to worry about being mocked for their answer because it’s not going to be sillier than Mmm…Bop! is it?

If you’re not quite that brave, make it easier with something like “What’s your favorite movie?”

Tip: It’s a fine line between surprise and shock. Keep it light and fun. Music, books and tv/film are easy targets. Politics and religion are strictly off limits.

6. Show your crazy side.

For this one, you may not have to say anything at all. Most networking events have name tags, right? Think about something fun and crazy that you’ve done. Have you bungee jumped off a bridge? Did you ride an ostrich in a race? Were you on a gameshow?

If you have anything cool, fun and surprising on your life’s resume, simply write it on your name tag. “Travis Davis – Communications Specialist. I ran with the bulls!”

If you saw that name tag at an event wouldn’t you want to talk to Travis and hear about running with the bulls? It doesn’t have to be anything so grand, but it does have to be interesting.

This networking ice breaking trick is extra effective because you’re putting the ball in the other person’s court. As they’re wandering around wondering how to talk to people, they’ll see your name tag. You just gave them the perfect opener.

Tip: Stick to the fun and crazy. This isn’t confession time. “Travis Davis – Communications Specialist. I once snuck into Disneyworld after hours!” It may be a fun story, but not for strangers.

Remember, most of the people at your networking event are in the same boat as you. They’re all hoping to break the ice and meet people and most of them aren’t sure how to do it. If you do a little prep-work beforehand, you can make it easier for everyone. Not only will it make it easier for you to make some new contacts, but you’ll be memorable. That’s a big win at any networking event.

Need help with your resume? Take advantage of our free critique today!

Related Articles: