Networking Small Talk: Surviving and Thriving

The biggest part of networking is mastering the art of diving deeper than expected into idle small talk. Knowing your way around a good conversation can be the difference between networking success and networking failure.

What are the keys to building a meaningful and enjoyable connection with your peers? Going to the edge of small talk, then jumping off it altogether. Let’s start with the standard, “How are you today?” The obvious and acceptable response is, of course, “fine, thank you.” What if you mixed up the question, making it open-ended?

Try asking, “what do you look forward to accomplishing here today?” at a conference, or maybe “tell me something great that happened to you today (or this week, this month, this year)?” You can even ask, “What’s going on in your life that you are excited about right now?”

Next, let’s address the age-old networking question of “What do you do?” Instead of a one sentence quick answer, dig for something a little deeper by asking, “If you could solve any problem, what would it be?” or “Tell me about your life’s passions.”

These examples are an imaginative way to get past jobs, careers and current realities and invite genuine responses and deeper conversations. Even asking, “what did you want to be growing up?” is a good way to get to know someone and share your own ambitions, too.


For a successful conversation with your peers, remember:

  • The best approach to take for successful networking is one that invites stories rather than allows them to give one word, expected and ordinary answers.
  • Don’t ask bland, standard questions; take them one step further. Instead of asking someone a closed question, such as “Where are you from originally?” try a deeper question, like “What is the most interesting or strange thing about your hometown?” Don’t leave it at “How was your day;” ask “What was the best part of your day?”
  • Being genuinely curious about the answers to your questions will encourage your peers to share and form deeper bonds and connections.
  • Keep your questions open ended rather than those that can be answered with a “yes” or “no,” or other brief answer. “Why did you relocate to New York City? What do you like about living there?”
  • Don’t be afraid to ask deeper questions, even when talking to strangers. Your approach will be remembered, and you are more likely to have some truly memorable answers. People will respond surprisingly well to these questions.
  • The beauty of “opening up and digging deeper” is that it can work just as well in everyday encounters, social situations, and even with your spouse and family. How often is there no response at the dinner table to “How was your day today?” It’s not that no one cares, it’s that the question is far too general to be answered.
  • Instead, ask each person individually about their day so they have a chance to answer in a more meaningful way. Try these approaches:
  • “What was the most interesting part of your day?”
  • “Is there anything that happened today that you wish could happen more often?”
  • “Did anything funny happen to you today?”
  • “Did anything especially memorable happen to you today?”
  • “Did anything make you feel like you were appreciated today?”

No matter who you are speaking to, peers in a networking event or the family at dinner, it’s important to expect that you will get answers that will be more detailed and longer than you are used to. Be ready for this and encourage it by making the deliberate choice to devote all of your attention to the speaker and listening fully to their answers.

Try this approach at your next event or gathering and you will see the results will be a more meaningful, deeper bond with your peers, friends, and family.