Remote work has gained in popularity during the 2020s, but being prepared for valuable in-person networking opportunities such as meetings and conferences remains important.  Knowing how to introduce yourself at a networking event is crucial, so let's look at some effective ways to break the ice.

Of course, there’s the old elevator pitch. But that’s most appropriate in a few specific situations, like when you’re job searching. Generally speaking, you’ll need more subtle icebreakers for successful business networking. Subtlety includes recognizing the right moment to introduce yourself and following up with the right words once conversation starts flowing.

Before you approach someone, be sure you’re not interrupting anything. Then, when it’s time to introduce yourself, you need an effective way to engage. Ideally, the first words out of your mouth will be about how you’re connected (in some way) to the person you’re trying to meet.

That’s not always possible, of course. So, we offer some icebreaker ideas on what to say, which you can customize as needed.

1. Use the event

Let’s say you’re at a conference and recognize someone from a lecture or talk you attended. Seize the opportunity: “Oh, didn’t I see you at the (so-and-so) lecture this morning? I love what he said about (this-and-that). What did you think?”

You’ve quickly engaged by pointing out something you have in common, which also provides an opportunity to share thoughts and opinions.

2. Try standard conversation starters

Wherever there’s food, there’s conversation. And that includes business networking events. If you find yourself in a buffet line with someone you’d like to meet, take advantage of the obvious: “Wow, this food looks great! I don’t know what to choose.”

This kind of comment invites people to respond with advice. And while it may not be the quickest way to start talking shop, it opens the door to introductions.

3. Have a good story ready

If you’re in a small group that includes people you don’t know, speak up when there’s a subject you can relate to: “Yes, that reminds me of something similar that happened at my office when ...”

This approach takes advantage of opportunities to chime in without seeming abrupt or out of place. And you can simultaneously slip in information about what you do, which can lead to further questions and conversation.

4. Make personal connections everywhere

Even at private events hosted by friends or family, be on the lookout for new people you could add to your professional network. In this case, your introduction can be tied to your relationship with the host: “Hi, I’m Tim, and I met Bill when we were both studying marketing at Michigan State. How did you two meet?”

Now the person you’re talking to knows you have a social connection and that you work in a specific field. And by engaging with a question, you keep the initial conversation going.

Try out one of these icebreaker ideas at your next event, and you’ll open the door to further business networking possibilities. Over time, you’ll gradually find which ones work best for you in different situations.