“Work the room.” If that expression makes you cringe, you’re not alone. Going from person to person and asking the same boring questions feels like an icky waste of time. But with the right questions, you can spend your time building relationships, instead of “working the room”.
Below are 11 creative alternatives to common networking questions that you can use at your next event to have better conversations and develop better relationships:
1. Instead of: What do you do?
Ask: What’s been keeping you busy lately?
The second question is more specific and allows your conversation partner to take it in any direction they wish. They could be busy with non-work related tasks and provide an answer that gives you insight into who they are personally. If they tell you what’s been keeping them busy professionally, they’ll likely share what they do in the process, and you’ll get more insight into their day-to-day activities. This question also leads to a more relaxing conversation since the responder doesn’t have to “elevator pitch” their job. Lastly, they’ve probably been asked what they do numerous times already. Your question will be a welcome change and help your conversation stand out.
2. Instead of: Tell me about yourself.
Ask: What’s your favorite thing about your job? What’s your favorite thing outside of your job?
“Tell me about yourself” is broad and can produce canned answers that don’t give you much insight into who your conversation partner is personally or professionally. Asking them about their favorite things at and outside of work allows them to talk about what they enjoy, which most people like doing. These questions also give you useful insight into what subjects interest them, which you can later use to connect with them and build the relationship.
3. Instead of: What are your hobbies?
Ask: What’s your ideal Saturday?
You’ll get so much more than a list of hobbies out of this question. Understanding how they like to experience life outside of work (or doing work if that’s ideal for them) allows you to get to know them on a deeper level. You also avoid the possible dead end answer of “I don’t have any hobbies”. Between work and family commitments, busy professionals might not have time for what they would consider a hobby, but they do know how they like to spend their time.
4. Instead of: Have you been here before?
Ask: What do you think of this venue?
Use this question if there is something interesting or unique about the event space. You can be more specific and ask about the food, drink, artwork, or view if applicable. It works because you and your conversation partner have the venue in common and can easily talk about it. Starting with that helps get the conversation flowing naturally, allowing it to move to other topics.
5. Instead of: Where are you from?
Ask: What’s the coolest place in your hometown/city?
Asking someone where they’re from isn’t a bad question, but it produces a one-word answer. Have another question like the one above at the ready to gain more insight and keep them talking. If they’ve lived in multiple cities or don’t appear to want to talk about their hometown, you can change the question to be about their current city or a city in which they’ve lived. The goal is to get them to think about and share a place of interest because it helps you get to know them.
6. Instead of: Where did you go to college?
Ask: What’s your best memory from college?
Like the number five, if your question has a one-word answer, either change the question or have a quick follow-up question ready. Recalling a good memory evokes positive feelings and can help relieve stress. While people don’t always remember what you say or do, they do tend to remember how you make them feel. If they’re sharing a good memory with you, they will likely remember feeling relaxed and happy when they talked to you. Note: this question doesn’t have to be about college. Tailor this question to best fit the situation.
7. Instead of: Why did you become a <insert career>?
Ask: How has being a <insert career> changed since you started?
The alternative question here is helping you avoid a canned response that the responder has probably given numerous times over their career. The second question is less common and more intriguing. If your conversation partner is new to their career, you can change the question to “how is being a <insert career> different than you expected?”
8. Instead of: Do you like the drink/food here?
Ask: What drink/food do you recommend?
Like question four, this is an easy way to get a conversation started and a jumping off point for other topics. Most people feel very comfortable talking about food and drink. Note: Make sure the person you ask is or was eating or drinking at the event, (but doesn’t currently have their mouth full).
9. Instead of: What’s your favorite food?
Ask: What would you request for your last meal?
Food is a popular conversation starter. The second question is more unique than the first, but still gives you the same information. With such an important meal, the responder will probably offer a little more explanation on their choice, which will help you get to know them better.
10. Instead of: It’s really cold/hot/rainy outside!
Ask: What’s your favorite thing to do on hot/rainy/cold days?
Commenting on the weather is a common way to strike up a conversation because there’s nothing more universal. If a weather remark feels like a good opener, follow up with an interesting question, such as the one above. This quickly steers the conversation away from the weather and to getting to know your conversation partner.
11. Instead of: How are you?
Ask: What’s been the best and worst thing about your today?
The answer to the first question is typically one word and automatic. The second question, however, requires more thought, gives you more insight, and creates more opportunities for follow-up questions.
Key takeaway: Better questions lead to better conversations. You’ll be surprised how easy it is to build relationships with people just from asking them interesting questions. When you give people the unexpected opportunity to share their story, the result is memorable conversations, which lead to more authentic relationships. Authentic relationships lead to more relationships, more opportunities, and greater success.