Episode 310: Ask Your Own Questions (Classic Podcast)

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This is a rebroadcast of Episode 83.


Dr. Misner recorded this episode from the International Directors’ Conference for BNI in Long Beach, California. It’s almost like being at a UN meeting: at least 39 countries are represented. All BNI members are welcome to attend.

Here are some questions you can ask when you’re meeting someone for the first time. Remember not to do this as an interrogation. Your goal is to get people to open up.

  • What do you do? How does that work?
  • Who’s in your target market?
  • What do you like most about what you do?
  • What’s new in your industry?
  • What sets you apart from your competition?
  • Why did you start your business?
  • Where is your business located?
  • What’s your most popular product or service?
  • How do you generate most of your business?
  • What’s a good referral for you?
  • What’s the biggest challenge for you in your business?

Suggested reading: Bob Burg’s Endless Referrals.

Brought to you by Networking Now.

Complete Transcription of BNI Podcast Episode 083 –

Hello everyone, and welcome back to The Official BNI Podcast brought to you by NetworkingNow.com, which is the leading site on the Net for networking downloadables.

I’m Priscilla Rice, and I’m coming to you from Live Oak Recording Studio in Berkley, California , and I am joined on the phone today by the founder and the chairman of BNI, Dr. Ivan Misner.

Hello, Ivan.


How are you?

I’m doing great.

Where are you?

Well, this week I’m at the international conference for BNI in Long Beach, California. It’s a pretty exciting week. We’re recording this with me in Long Beach. The conference generally has up to 700 directors and members, and it’s almost like going to a United Nations meeting. So, if you’re a BNI member and you ever see us talk about the international conference coming up, it’s usually in November of every year, and it’s generally in Southern California. You are welcome to attend. BNI members are welcome to attend the conference every year. It’s like going to a UN meeting because we have flags of all the countries. We’re expecting at least 39 countries to be represented.


Of course, all these cultures and all of these different accents and languages, it’s really an amazing experience with keynote speakers and many, many presentations. The conference tends to be really inexpensive. The Members Day is generally well under $50 to participate.


So if you’re hearing this podcast, look every November on the BNI.com Web site and you’ll see – actually, you should look in October for it on the BNI.com Web site and plan on coming to our international conference. This is going to be a great one this year.

Oh, it sounds great. All right, great. Well, what are you going to share with us today?

Well, I’m going to talk about what kinds of questions you can ask if you meet somebody at a networking meeting. Our last podcast, we talked about developing a magnetic personality, and I talked about Scott Ginsberg and common points of interest, CPI, and conversation starters and things to talk about. We talked about it in general terms, but I didn’t actually give any questions that you can ask. And so, with this podcast, what I want to do is give about 10 or 12 different questions that you can ask when you are meeting somebody for the first time to get them to talk about their business.


Now, I talk about this in the book that we released this year, The 29% Solution, so some of this is in there, and I invite people to go and look at it in here. But here they are, and you have to remember, you don’t want to do this as an interrogation. I’ve seen BNI members where they’ve taken the questions I’ve given them and they’ve written them down on a card. And they’ll look at the card and they’ll ask the question, look at the card and ask the question. It’s like an interrogation. Don’t do that. Just think about some of these questions and go with the flow of the conversation. It’s got to be interactive and just ask the question. They may take you down a direction where you’ll ask a question that’s not on your list of questions, never was on your list of questions, and that’s fine. Your goal here is go get people to open up.

So here are the 10 questions, maybe 12 questions that I’ll share with you.

Start off with real simple ones. “So, what do you do? Tell me about what you do.” And then, as they talk about what they do, you have follow-up questions, “Well, explain that a little bit more,” or “I’ve never heard of that before; how does that work?” follow-up questions to that.

“Who’s in your target market” or “What’s your target market” is a good second question.

Third is, “What do you like most about what you do? What’s fun about what you do?”

The fourth question is, “What’s new in your business? Is there anything new in that industry?” Particularly relevant if you know anything about the business. “I understand the business a little bit. What’s new in the industry?”

Now, here’s a question that I think is a great question. “What sets you apart from your competition?” is the fifth one. “What sets you apart from your competition?” Now, you don’t want to start with that, because that may make people feel uncomfortable. You need to use that one a little later in the conversation, if you can.

Here’s the next question, “Why did you start your business? What led you into that? How did you get there?” It gets people to talk about themselves and open up a little bit about what led them into that business.

“Where is your business located? Do you have more than one location?” would be a good follow-up question. “Where is your business located?”

Here’s another question, “What’s your most popular product or service? What do people ask for the most?”

Another one, “How do you generate most of your business?” That’s always a good lead-in to invite people into BNI. “How do you get most of your business?” And, oftentimes, they’ll say, “Networking, word of mouth, marketing.” It’s a great opportunity to invite people into BNI.

Here’s a question that we talk about in The 29% Solution. It’s a question that Bob Burg always gives, always asks, and he particularly does this towards the end of a conversation. Bob has written a number of books, including Endless Referrals. He’s a big proponent of BNI and a good friend of the organization. He said, “How can I tell when I meet somebody that they’re a good referral for you? What’s a good referral for you, so how can I refer someone to you? What do I look for to know that they would make a good referral for you?” That kind of question, and I think it’s a great question.

Here’s, I believe, number 12, “What’s the biggest challenge for you in your business?” And I would leave that question for last, because if you ask that question first, it makes people uncomfortable. But if you leave it towards one of your last questions where they’ve really had a chance to talk, then that gives you an opportunity, because they will oftentimes share something like, “Well, you know, employees are always the biggest challenge,” or “This is the biggest challenge,” or “That’s the biggest challenge.” It gives you an opportunity to help them.

You see, two things I really want to leave with the listeners of this podcast. One is, you should always remember that a good networker has two ears and one mouth and uses them both proportionately to get people to talk about themselves. And the best way to build a relationship is to help people.

And so, this last question really gives you an opportunity to find some way to help them. For me, it’s oftentimes referring them to an article that may address that challenge that they’ve just shared with me. “Oh, gee, I think I’ve got an article that I read that talks about that. Would you like me to e-mail that to you?” And they appreciate that, and that’s an opportunity to make a second contact with them.

And so, these techniques on asking your own questions can be very powerful, especially if you end it with something that enables them to talk about some challenge that they have that you can somehow assist them with. And I don’t mean sell them your product or service. Networking is more about farming than it is about hunting, and the best way to cultivate a relationship is to help somebody. So, look for opportunities to help them in some way, and that gives you the chance to meet with them again.

So, before attending your next networking function, think about what you want other people to ask you. To get the most out of the whole networking process, take the initiative and ask those questions of each person that you meet first.

And you think, then, they’ll ask the same questions back?

They might, yes, absolutely. And they may not ask them as thoroughly, but listen, your goal really is to build the relationship, not close a sale at a networking event. If they’re interested in your product or service, they’ll know pretty quickly, and you’ll know pretty quickly. So, what I see happen all too often at networking events is that people are trying to close a deal, and they’re trying to talk somebody into their product or service, and that almost never happens. That happens about as often as a solar eclipse where you just stumble over somebody that wants to buy your product or service.

And so the ideal situation is to help somebody where you can build the relationship, and from building that relationship, they will either use your product or service or will refer you to someone they meet who will use your product or service. And the best way to do that is to make a connection that allows you to contact them a second time.

Yeah, okay, great. Well, what else to you have to share with us? Is there something else you’d like to add to that?

No, those are the questions that I recommend. If the listeners can jot those down and try to remember some of them as they go out and meet people. I think you will find that this is a really good list of questions to get people to open up and have them ask you some similar kinds of questions.

Okay, great. Well, thank you, Dr. Misner.

Thank you, Priscilla.

I think that’s it for this week. And I want to remind all of the listeners that this podcast has been brought to you by NetworkingNow.com, which is the leading site on the Net for networking downloadables. Thanks so much for listening. This is Priscilla Rice, and we hope you will join us next week for another exciting episode of The Official BNI Podcast.


  1. says

    I like the fact the Dr. Misner covered each question and their benefits. I also thought it was helpful when he said you don’t want to start a conversation with #5 What sets you apart from your competition?, that you should build up to it. I feel it is important to also prepare for that question. I recently had a visitor from another BNI chapter ask me that very question. After I responded she said nice response, then told me that a majority of the time people are caught off guard by that question and either stumble thru it or don’t answer.

Solutions-focused comments are welcome