20 Natural Conversation Starters for Conferences

starting conversations and conferences

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You need conversation starters for your next trade show — we’ve got tons of them!

It’s spring conference season and that means that many of you will be heading off to industry trade shows conferences.  One thing you can count on at these conferences is massive amounts of people. And with massive crowds of people comes overwhelm and maybe even a little bit of shyness when it comes to starting conversations with strangers.

I’ll also be sharing conversation starters for virtual conferences, meetings and trade shows, so keep reading to the end.

4 Simple Conversation Starter Rules

  1. Keep Your Questions Open-Ended: You know the drill, start your question with a Who, What, Where, When, Why or In What Ways.
  2. Get Out of the Box Booth: Sure, you can ask trade show or conference related questions, but switch things up a bit and ask questions about them and their business.
  3. Keep it Professional: Some topics are more suited for your friends and family than strangers or near-strangers. Your questions should never make your conversational partner uncomfortable.
  4. Be Relevant: If you can start a conversation about something timely or specific, such as your location, event, industry, jobs, or current interests. The other person will find it easier to contribute.

If you find yourself wondering how to start conversations at conferences — here are just a few questions you can jot down to get the conversation started:

What do I say at a trade show?

  • Why are you at the conference (or trade show) and what will you walk away with that will make this time worthwhile?
  • What’s your strategy for getting and keeping profitable customers?
  • What sets your business apart from the crowd?
  • What possibilities or opportunities do you see for your business in 2010? And in what is at least one way that you’re going to take advantage of them?
  • What’s been your most successful strategy in building your business so far? What tips do you have for those of us that want to use that strategy as well?
  • What do you love about your business?
  • How did you start your business?
  • What’s been your favorite part of the conference so far?
  • Who are some of your favorite experts and/or authors?
  • Have you gone to this conference before? What’s changed?
  • What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned? (If the conference isn’t over, add “so far?”)
  • Why did you decide to attend?
  • Are you planning on coming back next year?
  • Are you here with other people? Do you prefer going to conferences solo or with a group?
  • Are you doing any non-conference activities while you’re here? Alternatively: “Did you fit in any non-conference activities?”)
  • Is this your first time in [city]? What do you think of it?
  • Are you from the area? (If yes: “Do you have any [food, museum, shopping, music] recommendations?” If no: “Where are you from?”)
  • What exciting projects are you working on?
  • Tell me about your company or business?
  • What’s the most interesting thing that you’ve gotten out of the conference so far.

How to Start a Conversation in a Virtual Meeting

With so many conferences and trade shows going virtual, starting a conversation can be tricky. Most conversations during a virtual meeting (or a LIVE event on Facebook or LinkedIn) happen in the chat.

So, in addition to paying attention to the speakers, it’s a great idea to pay attention to the chat.

Here are some simple ways to start a conversation in a virtual meeting:

  1. Start by saying hi to the group and telling them where you are located. If you have the ability to do so, take a snapshot of your view – always fun to see where people are.
  2. Notice where other people are located and look for ways to make a connection — you can say that you’re visiting and want suggestions about where to eat, for example.
  3. Mention the person you want to comment to using @their name. If you are on a Facebook or LinkedIn live, you can speak directly to a person by adding the @ symbol to their name. In a Zoom MEETING, you can send a message directly to someone in the room.
  4. Ask a question to the group. A virtual event is a great place to ask a type of survey question “How many of you have an online business?” for example. If you’re at the same event, you share an interest in the topic, so this is a great time to run a mini survey of your audience.

Final Thoughts on Conversation Starters (and a download)

Now that you know how to start a conversation, the next step is to make sure that you are prepared to take advantage of all the opportunities available at a conference. You can download your checklist of conversation starters here.

conversation starters for conferences download
download your very own conversation starter sheets
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