Professional conferences or networking events are great ways to learn new things about your industry and make important contacts for your career.
They also can be exhausting.
Even the most outgoing person can find hours of "small talk" a bit draining. If you say "Hello, how are you?" one more time, you think you might go crazy.
The key to getting through such events is doing some planning beforehand. Believe it or not, chatting with strangers takes some effort, and poor planning can lead to inane conversations and fruitless contacts that go nowhere.
Before you go to your next event, here are some things to think about:
- Stay away from controversial subjects. Politics, racism and sexism are important subjects, but they shouldn't be used as small talk. Those are pretty weighty subjects that deserve serious consideration, and you run the risk of making an offhand comment that could be taken the wrong way. If someone tries to solicit your opinion, change the subject. "How do I feel about the president? You know, I think that's a subject that will take much longer to discuss. But I would really like to know more about your job."
- Show interest. "I see that your name tag says you are from Detroit. I've never been there, but would like to visit. Do you have some recommendations about where to visit?" Asking questions makes others feel like you are interested in them. You can ask about where they went to school, where they grew up, their favorite sports teams or what they like to do in their spare time. Once you've broken the ice a bit, then you can move to more inquiries about the person's job, their greatest challenges, what they think about latest industry trends, etc.
- Be enjoyable. Nobody wants to talk to someone who can only drone on about a job or an industry. Be sure that you're up on the latest pop culture stories or the movie that is breaking box office records. You'll be more memorable if you can join in such fun topics and be seen as more approachable to others.
Finally, remember that talking to a bunch of strangers can be difficult for anyone. Once you realize that everyone is going through the same thing, you'll realize you have something in common before you offer your first handshake and it won't seem so difficult.