I used to struggle at networking events . I felt anxious and intimidated, awkwardly trying to break through the huddles of powerful, well-dressed people.
I took frequent breaks, just to get some relief from the unbearable awkwardness. I left in hurry after each presentation, and I kept questioning if it was even worth going, seeing how I never made any connections.
Until one day, it happened. The presentation was over, I was gathering my stuff to leave, and when I turned around, I saw four people, eagerly waiting to speak to me.
I was surprised and confused—until I realized this was actually the second time this had happened at a recent networking event .
What was I doing differently? Was I dressing more stylishly? Was it the new whitening toothpaste I was using?
Then I realized the common link: At both presentations, I participated in the Q&A session by asking the speaker a specific question.
Reflecting after the fact, I realized this does two things: It provides the opportunity to be seen and heard by the entire audience at once—and it makes you more memorable to the speaker as well. As a result, people come up to you.
Of course, this strategy won’t work with just any ol’ question. Here’s how to get it right:
Step 1: Listen With an Open Mind
Most people only half-listen to the speaker. They’re mostly thinking about how to “work the room” when the presentation wraps up.
It wasn’t until I let go of my mind’s “chatter” and really listened that I thought of the question that got me the meaningful connections I wanted.
If you default to planning and worrying, remind yourself that tuning in to the message will pay off.
Step 2: Consider How You Can Relate
This particular speech was about “The Art of Taking Risks.” At the time, I was on the fence about accepting a full-time job or starting a freelancing business, so I was listening intently.
When the speaker, a professional counselor, spoke about risk and reward, fear of failure, and the merits of leaving your comfort zone, it was like he was speaking to me directly—I felt deeply connected to the message.
In other words, I didn’t begin listening with the intention of getting noticed. But to say something meaningful, it’s important to relate. If you don’t, don’t worry about it—but don’t pretend, either. People will see right through an inauthentic question you’re using to get attention, and it’ll backfire.
Step 3: Ask Something Unique
You know the token questions people ask at Q&A’s:
How do you define success?
What was your biggest obstacle?
While they’re totally acceptable, the speaker has probably answered them countless times, and you’re not likely to stand out—to them or the audience.
Now, here’s the question I asked:
You talked a lot about being willing to leave your comfort zone and take healthy risks. I’ve been considering turning my writing into a business, but I also have a family to think about. How can you balance taking healthy career risks while also keeping your responsibilities to your loved ones?
The room was so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
The expression on the speaker’s face changed from expectant to curious—his eyes narrowed and he nodded slowly as he took in my words—knowing that his answer would require some thought on his part rather than a canned response. I could see members of the audience leaning forward in anticipation of his answer.
While you likely can’t use that exact question, you can use the same formula:
“I loved what you said about [the part of the speaker’s message that relates to your situation]. I have encountered [unique obstacle]. How do you recommend [applying the message to the obstacle]?”
“You mentioned your struggle with [speaker’s obstacle that you can relate to]. How would you overcome these barriers while also dealing with [your unique situation]?
“I am currently trying to [unique goal]. While trying to [put the speaker’s message into action], how do you overcome [unique obstacle]?”
Breaking Down Why This Works
The benefits of my question were three-fold:
- It repeated part of the speaker’s core message—showing I was genuinely listening.
- It revealed something slightly personal about myself—creating the opportunity to spark a connection with like-minded audience members who may have had a similar experience.
- It was framed in a way that the answer would be clear, helpful, and interesting to the audience.
It also made it easier for people to approach me—it gave them an instant jumping off point. They too wanted to talk about work-life balance and weren’t worried about having to start with “So, what do you do?” small talk. I ended up exchanging business cards with all of them.
I can now say without a doubt that learning to participate meaningfully in Q&A sessions transformed my networking experience. When I stopped worrying about being impressive and started asking what genuinely mattered to me, I started looking forward to these events—and gaining meaningful connections.