Are you tired of opening with “What’s your business?” as an opening line at networking events? Or the ever so popular, “who’s your best customer?”. While those are perfectly valid questions, it sets the stage for a canned conversation that probably doesn’t flow naturally. As an alternative, why not ask something like:

How did you land your first client?

This question will catch them off-guard at first. But typically people don’t forget their first client. Usually, there’s a story of some kind with it. If it’s a business that’s been around a while, it may even make that person nostalgic and proud about how far the business has come since it’s humble beginnings.

Or they may not remember at all.

If they don’t remember, ask how they landed their last client. Or last five clients. Usually, there’s a straightforward answer to these questions that don’t require much rehearsing. So people can answer without a lot of thought and it’s a more natural conversation.

If these questions fail to inspire a conversation, you have two options: tell them how you landed your first client or customer; or bail. You can use your judgment on that one. But if you’re having difficulty getting somebody to talk about their business, it’s probably a good sign to choose the latter and move on.

The point of any networking activity is to learn about other people and their business so you can be a connector. Hearing the story of their beginning can jump-start a conversation and provide you enough information so you can think about who in your network might travel the same traffic lanes as your new acquaintance.

Give it a try at your next networking event.