How many times did you find yourself in a pointless conversation at a networking event?
This is a usual phenomenon in events, like corporate mixers, that you did not necessarily sign up for.
How can you really make the most out of such events though? Be able to avoid the pointless waste of time that is called small talk, and build some meaningful relationships with people that you just met
The solution is not in the answers. It's in the questions.
Pick the right people. Read the guest list, listen to conversations around the room, find out who is who. Engage with people that you find interesting.
Once you've briefly introduced yourself, don't try to dominate the spotlight and invite your interlocutor to talk about themselves. For example: "Tom, tell me about your work"
Learn about their interests and hobbies, find out how can you actually match with them: "What movies do you like? What food do you like?". These are ice breaker questions.
Understand their aspirations, and ask follow-up questions: "What are you working on right now? It sounds exciting, what are your next steps? How are you planning to overcome this challenge?"
Reciprocate if you have the opportunity: "I know someone who can help you with that, shall I connect you to them?". Offering to support helps you to establish trust in a relationship.
Set a goal at the end of the meeting. Lay down potential synergies, schedule a follow up meeting, plan your next steps with this new contact.
If you proceed with these questions, three things will happen:
You will learn more about the person you converse with
You will be able to identify common ground or a mismatch
You will make a connection, with whom you might just be able to help each other in the future.