How to Strike Up a More Engaging Conversation at Events

Tweaking the questions you ask will energize your interactions.

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As travel industry professionals, we have all been here before: Standing in the buffet line at a conference, you catch the eye of a friendly stranger. They glance at your name badge and prompt you with a question you've already answered half a dozen times that day: "So, where are you based?" You smile politely while gripping your plate and repeat, "New Jersey, how about you?"

While attending industry events, it's easy to turn on autopilot and roll through a list of safe, easy-to-answer questions. But what if you flipped the script for a refreshing new conversation? 

On a recent trip, I had some downtime with a few industry partners. As we soaked up the sun, I prompted them with the question, "If you could have any meal right now, what would it be?" Surprised and delighted, their wheels started turning. After five minutes of menu planning, the three of us agreed that we would opt for surf and turf. It was a fun moment that we referenced a few times throughout the week.

When mingling at your next event, the following alternatives might open up opportunities to connect more deeply with that friendly stranger in the buffet line.

Where are you based?

TRY: What do you like to do when you're not working?
WHY IT'S BETTER: Initiating topics outside of work can help uncover common interests and will be a welcome shift from the usual meeting banter.

When did you get in/when are you leaving?

TRY: Are you extending your trip in this destination to enjoy some free time?
WHY IT'S BETTER: Gain inspiration for things to do and see while you're in town. Wouldn't you rather hear about the upcoming catamaran tour than their detailed flight itinerary?

Have you ever been to this destination before?

TRY: What's the last destination you've traveled to for fun (not work)?
WHY IT'S BETTER: Tapping into someone's personal travel adventures can unlock a number of stories and inspire you to share some of your own. 

How was your flight?

TRY: Which panel conversations/educational sessions inspired you the most?
WHY IT'S BETTER: Expanding upon new ideas is infinitely more intriguing than hearing about the minibag of pretzels or slight turbulence they experienced on their trip.

How long have you worked at your company?

TRY: What's something you've learned this year in your role/at your company?
WHY IT'S BETTER: You could find out something beyond the number of years someone has spent at their company -- and perhaps gather useful insight you can apply to your own career.
These might seem like small adjustments, but you'll be surprised how relieved your industry peers will be when you approach them with a question they haven't already heard 50 times that day. Initiating a different conversation can result in a deeper and more lasting connection, which you can build on long after the event is over.