After more than seven years of active networking, finding a way to start a conversation with a complete stranger is second nature.  Who are you?  What do you do?  Who would you like to meet, roll off my tongue with so little effort, that I forget it wasn’t always that easy for me.

Like many new business owners, our Intern Melinda Cooper is struggling to find her way in the maze of networking conversations, and has a few interesting suggestions.   For example she thought  using little known triva about Twitter might be an interesting way to get the conversation started.  For example:

  • It was originally called : twittr
  • There are 8 birds in the Fail Whale, not 10  because there were originally 8 SUN X4100s  (servers) behind Twitter.  ( There are a lot more now)
  • Twitter didn’t actually invent the @ mechanism people started using it, and they added it to the code.

Now these are interesting facts, and fun for Twitter users, but completely meaningless to the rest of the world.  So I told Melinda she could take them to her  next Tweet Up, but should leave them at home when heading to a mixed group of biz owners.

This is a common mistake novice networkers make.  They forget to take a quick study of the room or the person they are talking with, before launching into a particular conversation. And it usually takes just a few questions to figure out if a topic is going to be a good fit.

I was once at a networking event with a number of inventors and investors.  I was neither, but was pinned into a lengthy conversation by a chemist who just wanted to talk about his product.  I honestly had no idea what he was talking about, so he was wasting his time and mine, and missing opportunities to talk to serious investors.

Instead of opening with his “pitch” if he had opened with a few questions, he would have learned a bit more about me, and realized, I wasn’t who he was looking to meet and moved on.

Good networking begins with a few good opening questions, and a little bit of practice.  What are some of your favorite networking openers?