Before we delve into the conversation starters, let’s do a quick introduction. This is needed so you can get into the right mindset and really understand how everything comes together.
Conversation is an artform that has been somewhat lost. More and more of us are spending an increasing amount of time online where our interactions are buffered by screens and keyboards. The requirement to speak in person is getting ever-lower, and as a species we seem to be getting more introverted!
That’s all fine and well, until you find yourself at a cocktail party opposite a stranger with absolutely nothing to say. Or perhaps left in a room with a friend you don’t speak to much, trying to prove that you really are good friends!
And what of first dates? Meeting the parents? Trying to impress a potential business partner?
The fact that people are forgetting how to talk to one another is actually an opportunity; it means that you can stand out and make an AMAZING first impression as a great conversationalist. Connect on a deeper level, put your personality across, and maybe even make a new friend!
And it all starts with a good opening question or statement. Here are some conversation starters to try:
“How has your day been?”
This one seems extraordinarily simple, but it is the strongest option in many scenarios.
There are plenty of reasons for this. For one, it doesn’t sound like you’re trying too hard. Ask someone what their favorite color is, and it will look like you’re using 13-year-old dating tactics! Asking where someone sees themselves in 5 years sounds like you’ve just read a book on “how to make conversation.”
What’s more, is that the answer can reveal a lot about a person and lead naturally to other conversation topics. Maybe they got stuck in traffic, maybe someone is giving them a hard time at work, maybe they woke up feeling great! Really listen, and then follow up with an answer and you can gradually take the conversation much deeper.
This relies on great listening. Listening is the true key to great conversation, so make sure to practice is!
One of the worst things to ask is “what have you been doing lately?” This is often a go-to for someone you haven’t seen for a long time, but the truth is that it’s usually impossible to properly compress one years’ worth of news into a short conversation. As such, it tends not to lead anywhere and leaves everyone feeling awkward! It also draws attention to just how much you don’t know about your old friend, and makes you feel more distant. Asking about someone’s day brings you right up to speed, and the detail will reveal themselves.
“How is your son/daughter?”
There are a couple of topics of conversation that, once you get someone going on them, will never run dry! One of the biggest of these is asking someone how their child is! Most parents can talk for hours about their kids, and if you are also a parent, then you’ll have a whole lot to relate to them about. If not, buckle in, because it could be a rather dull ride. But at least there will be no awkward silences!
“What do you do in your spare time?”
This has become common advice, but it’s always a good idea to ask someone what they do in their spare time rather than to ask what they do at work. The reason for this, is that people don’t tend to enjoy their work as much as they enjoy their hobbies, and as such they tend to be less passionate when speaking about jobs.
Not only that, but this tells you far more about that person and creates many more opportunities to talk.
[Insert observation about the event you’re currently at]
Just like asking someone about their day, discussing the event you are currently at is also a great way to bring the conversation into the present rather than the past. This also works well because there are usually elements
One of the best ways to do this is simply to ask the person if they’re having a good time. You can then lead into comments about the food, the venue, or your mutual acquaintances.
“Are you doing anything interesting next week?”
This one runs the risk of sounding like a proposition, but as long as you avoid that potential misstep, it’s another great way to get someone talking. You can then once again learn a whole lot about that person: their living arrangements, their family, and their hobbies/commitments. Any of these are potential opportunities to expand the conversation further, without it sounding forced.
Key takeaways from these conversation starters
You’ll find plenty of articles online that promise “101 conversation starters” or similar. While these might sound impressive, the truth is that you don’t need 101! You just need these few. While that might sound like a bold claim, the truth is that the conversation starter should not be a crux. A good conversation starter should allow you to discuss what’s on the person’s mind right now, and should feel natural and friendly.
Tell a joke or “show your silly side” as some articles suggest, and you risk it falling flat (although if you really want to, make sure you do it right). Asking what type of music someone is into only leads to a conversation if you happen to know anything about that genre (and sounds contrived). Giving a random compliment can actually make a person feel uncomfortable (a lot of people have no idea how to respond to compliments), and asking for a “pretend favor” is just strange behavior (and runs the risk of them telling you no).
Commenting on the weather is tragic…
So instead, just try to make normal conversation about your days and the situation, and then make sure you listen well so that you can take the conversation deeper. Be natural, and be yourself. And remember: this is not a test for you. Conversation is a two way thing, and if the person is giving you short, stilted answers, it does not instantly become your responsibility to rescue the conversation. You tried… so move on. No pressure!
The key to great conversation is just to enjoy yourself, after all!