By Daniel Casciato
Whether you’re at a networking event or a conference, a great ice breaker can help you make a memorable first impression with someone you meet for the first time. That encounter can ultimately lead to a long-lasting friendship, relationship or a valuable partnership. Below are some specific tips on effective ice breakers you can use in different scenarios to get those conversations started.
1. Wear a Conversation Starter
Marcia Rhodes, regional managing director for Amendola Communications, was out with her girlfriends one evening and began posing for group photos at a Scottsdale, AZ restaurant when one guy approached her and asked, “Do you actually enjoy having your photo taken?” Rhodes replied that she’s in PR and therefore it’s part of the job. That started a warm conversation which led to several dates.
“I wear items that people can easily comment on, such as a pin, scarf or unusually large watch,” she says. “Sports jerseys almost always trigger a conversation. Last month, I wore my Seahawks shirt to a sports bar and a fellow Seahawks fan spotted me and gave me the thumbs up from a distance. So I approached and we chatted for half an hour. When I see someone wearing something unusual, be it man or woman, I always ask where they got it and they are always eager to tell me about the item.”
Robin Randall, creator of Curioso Cuff, an interactive wrist accessory, agrees. “Not only does a great piece of jewelry or a fashion accessory add a crisp accent finish to any outfit, but it also makes a great conversation starter.”
Randall designed her Cuff—an opalescent stone that lights up three ways by pressing it—to be an ice-breaker that can spark conversation and even curiosity.
“We named it Curioso Cuff because we wanted it to be a little mysterious,” Randall says. “The filigree weave design is adjustable and designed to be full of whimsy. If you remember the mood ring, that was a conversation piece, as well. This is a similar thing.”
Randall and some friends have worn them out on several occasions and it generates the interest — and conversations — she had hoped it would. “Women in boutiques have come up to me and asked about it. I remember one man in a bar at La Guardia Airport in New York ask me if there a reason that my bracelet is lit?”
2. Focus on the One Individual
For Jeanne Achille, chief executive officer of the DEVON Group, the most effective ice breakers are those focused on the individual with whom you’re seeking to converse – far more impactful than some contrived, canned sound bite.
“Compliment the individual on their smile, their great handbag or ask what they think of the signature drink being served at the event and you’re well on your way to further dialogue,” she says.
For people who aren’t generally outgoing, they might not realize that approaching someone and asking them about their self is often very pleasing to the person, notes Julie Talenfeld, President of Boardroom Communications.
“I always think of ways to go up to a stranger at a networking event to incorporate what I do for work by asking them what they do,” she says.
For instance, she would say, “Hi, I’m Julie, I have a public relations company, what do you do?” It’s basic and it shows the person that you are interested in him or her.