Fail-Safe Questions for Networking

By Pamela A. Scott

I was meeting with Sharon over lunch yesterday. She’s been a successful professional for 20 years and now functions as a project manager and part-time business developer. She is considered a leader in her firm, one who might be asked to become regional manager before too long.

However, she freezes up when she thinks about having to make small talk with strangers or people she knows only slightly. Her role requires her to attend networking meetings and to build her circle of contacts.

The key for Sharon and everyone else who dreads networking is this: Ask good questions that get the other person talking about themselves. And make sure they are not questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no.”

In truth, we all like to talk about ourselves. We like to brag about our kids or tell a humorous story about what Fido did. We certainly share stories about our travel nightmares or the weather.

So, try out some of these the next time you’re facing the networking nightmare.

  • How did you fare during last week’s snowstorm/flood/etc? What did you do (or have your kids do) to keep from going crazy?
  • I heard you have a new baby/just got married/bought a new house or car. Congratulations! What kind of impact has that had on your life?
  • I’ve been thinking about where I might go on vacation this year. I’m collecting input from folks I talk to. What has been your favorite vacation spot? (Follow up with “And why?” if they give you a one-word answer.)
  • You can use that same technique to get someone talking about their favorite breed of dogs, model of car, private school, etc.
  • If someone has an accent that indicates he’s not local, say, “I noticed your accent. What part of the country are you from?” Or “What’s your country of origin? Either can easily be followed by “What brought you here?”

Remember: The key is to ask a good question that keeps them talking about themselves and lets you be the listener.

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