Learning how to start a conversation is one of the biggest challenges for many people, especially in a social setting. Some individuals are natural conversation starters, masters of small talk, while others struggle to make eye contact or initiate a greeting. For many people, it’s easy to start a conversation with a friend or colleague, though initiating dialogue or making eye contact with someone new can be intimidating.
Before starting a conversation, it’s important to understand which introductions actually work. Firstly, asking someone “how are you” can seem uninteresting and will often require a simple one-word answer, or a sentence, at the most.
Most people are so accustomed to the standard “hello, how are you” to really take it seriously or bother engaging in small talk. It’s also important to understand that there’s no magic comment or phrase that will initiate the perfect dialogue or conversation with someone. Starting conversations isn’t complicated, but it takes a bit of creativity and persistence to get things going. Most of all, it’s important to have fun and keep the conversation light and engaging.
1. “Tell Me About Yourself” to Break the Ice
When looking to start a conversation that could lead to dating or friendship, “tell me about yourself” as an open ended question is a great way to begin. This opener gives the other person the freedom to talk about anything they want without getting too personal. It’s a great way to find out what related or common interests somebody else has and whether or not they want to make conversation in the first place.
Many people find this approach positive, as it gives them control over the conversation and allows them to answer however they please, without pressure or feeling like they have to answer a specific question. It’s often asked in a light-hearted way, so that it’s fun and friendly.
If a person is nervous or shy, they may suddenly feel renewed confidence when someone expresses interest in them, which is one major reason this introduction is ideal. Everyone has something to say, whether it’s about their favorite subject or personal ideas. Never miss an opportunity to talk about a mutual passion that can spark interesting dialogue and develop into friendship or something more.
2. “Have you Done Anything Exciting Recently?”
People generally enjoy this opening, as it expresses genuine interest and the potential for great conversation. For some individuals, this is the chance to share their most recent vacation or share an extraordinary experience that they’ve been dying to talk about. It’s not too personal, though it gives the other person a creative way to share something about their life that could spark a funny conversation or establish common ground.
Starting a conversation successfully is often as easy as showing genuine interest in a person and making eye contact. Some people are flattered that you want to get to know them, and they’ll gladly indulge an inquiry and want to talk.
Everyone, on some level, enjoys personal attention and talking about themselves. They may not often get the opportunity to speak openly about their dreams, hobbies, or ideas. Make sure to ask follow up questions to demonstrate good listening skills, and acknowledge talking points during the dialogue. This could lead to a lot more creative conversation and establish a great relationship.
3. Ask Follow Up Questions to Curate Interest
What did you think of the game last night? Did you catch the most recent episode of (insert Netflix series), and what did you think about it? Further questions are a great way to build a rapport, especially if you’re meeting someone for the first time or want to get better acquainted with them. Ask a question related to a local sports team, for example, if the person is a hockey or football fan, or steer the conversation to music or live entertainment if that’s of interest.
Unless you know the individual very well, it’s best to avoid possible divisive topics, such as politics. However, in some cases, a person may “test” the waters and learn quickly that such items may be favorable, though it’s still best to proceed with caution.
As a general rule, keep follow up questions positive and a means to get a dialogue going. Keep the discussion on point with any skills or related topics of interest, and you’ll find the discussion will flow effortlessly, like a conversation between close friends or colleagues. Questions that follow from the original inquiry can easily build rapport and keep people talking.
4. “What Brings You Here?” is a Good Conversation Starter
Attending a job fair or networking event? If the occasion is purely work-related or professional, anyone can modify this conversation starter to “What line of work are you in?” or “What is your profession?” Strike up a conversation with open ended questions and keep the dialogue friendly and positive.
If there’s hesitation because the other person isn’t sure how to answer, volunteer to offer some quick information, like “I’m here to network and meet people like you,” then keep the flow going from there. Sometimes, even in a formal setting, light and funny conversations are a nice break and may help other people feel at ease and relaxed.
A direct approach is sometimes the best. This question is best for gauging someone’s ability to think on their feet and to find out what they consider helpful in terms of advice. Are they practical and offer common, standard responses, or do they pause before offering a well-thought-out idea or suggestion?
This approach offers a unique view into another person’s priorities and what makes them “tick.” Advice may be anything from “never give up” to a long, comprehensive list of what makes life better. Either way, it’s an interesting way to start talking and learn about someone.
5. Use Body Language to Engage with People
Non-verbal cues such as body language offer a great way to communicate with people without saying a word. If a person folds their arms across their chest, avoids eye contact, and maintains a lot of distance, most people will assume they are not interested in engaging in a conversation.
On the other hand, people who smile, use friendly hand gestures, and nod in response to a comment or message tend to be more approachable. Consider a party where there’s a mix of friends, some of which are new and unacquainted with anyone but the host. Some may be eager to start a conversation with someone, while others may be nervous or uncertain of what to say. Always take the initiative, and start talking, even if it’s to ask a question about the music playing or to ask what they have planned for fun on the weekend.
In some situations, open and engaging body language means a person is interested. If someone notices a general “openness,” they may start the conversation, ask some fun questions, and take the lead. An individual who smiles or nods is approachable. The unexpected laugh at a joke or shrug with a smile can start a conversation too. The next comment or question is likely posed to the person who looks interested rather than distant and avoidant.
6. Get the Conversation Started with a Quote or Excerpt from a Book or Article
You can begin a conversation by engaging with someone who is clearly a fan of literature, current events, or film with a simple quote or piece of writing. Many people respond to something with passion, especially if they share a common ground. A simple text from a recent news release or an opinion on fine cuisine can start conversations about many great talking points and develop more than just small talk.
Some people enjoy this approach because it’s direct but not too personal or invasive. Asking questions about a specific filmmaker or series can be a creative way to get someone talking about their interests. It’s often the perfect way to keep the conversation going.
In some cases, asking a person about their thoughts on a specific issue or asking questions or tips on grilling a steak, or choosing a book to read makes a great example of starting a conversation. Some people want to talk about their skills and hobbies a great deal, and tapping into this can make for a great discussion and a way to get to know a person better.
7. Stay Positive and Show Genuine Interest
When was the last time anyone tried to get out of a conversation? There are many reasons why a person will back away from a conversation, narrowed down to key factors, they can often be summarized as negativity and self-absorption. While many people are eager to learn about someone new, they can become bored or start to get out of the conversation if it’s all about the person speaking and nothing more. People want others to show interest in them and ask questions that could steer the conversation in a fun, positive direction.
Another drawback that keeps conversations from developing is negativity or complaining. While some people incorporate a complaint as something funny to joke about, it’s not the best way to start a dialogue. Even a friend or family member can be turned off when there’s negativity and a lack of fun. There are enough challenges for everyone in life, and one critical comment too many can be the end of a conversation or a party. Keeping a good conversation means showing interest and talking in a fun, positive way.
8. Starting a Conversation about What Keeps You Busy
Open ended questions are the best way to start a conversation. People who want to talk generally enjoy continuing a good conversation centered around something that they are passionate about. What keeps most people busy? Every person has an answer and an explanation to this question, even if it’s unexpected.
Some people will offer helpful tips, job ideas or take the lead and steer the dialogue in a unique direction. If in doubt, keep the open ended questions handy, so there’s reason to keep the conversation going. Talking to a new person is an ideal way to learn something and improve conversation starters in the future.
9. Ask for Suggestions or Tips
How would you ask for a tip or suggestion? It doesn’t have to be a personal question or something too formal. Asking for a tip can be as simple as the following example questions: What restaurant would you suggest for a special occasion? Do you have suggestions for appetizers? Ask for a book, film, or podcast recommendation.
People love to talk about what they’re listening to and what they’ve learned. A unique podcast, article, or hobby could make for some fascinating talking points and get a conversation started in no time.
10. Conversation Starters for the Creative Person
What would you do if you won the lottery? If you could spend an hour with anyone famous, who would it be? Do you have an unpopular or controversial opinion? Each question is an example of how to start talking with someone in a creative way. Take the lead and ask some enjoyable, “what-if” style questions to see how the other person reacts.
Some people may laugh or answer with a question. Life doesn’t always have to be serious or related to a job or career development. Networking, developing a friendship, or more, is best done with a conversation that elicits a person’s natural response.
Many companies and team-building exercises use random shared facts or ideas as talking points or ways to start a conversation in a less intimidating way. Once a person shares that they have pets, enjoy travel, and reading science fiction, they quickly become a familiar person or friend, in a sense, and easier to talk to when starting a conversation.
An example of a creative question someone may ask may be posed in a way that makes the other person think, such as describe your perfect day, or what would be your favorite vacation, and why?
11. Begin with an Ice Breaker
Many people get nervous when they are networking for a job and may not always display body language cues that are inviting. Starting conversations with an ice breaker is the perfect method for releasing stress and making the person feel comfortable.
Small talk is often an ideal way of how to start a conversation, though some people respond better to a fun fact or topic. Ask someone what inspires them to work in their chosen field of work or what makes them good at what they do. While this example may catch a person off guard, it will give them a moment to pause and think. It’s a good way to get people thinking about personal goals and ignite excitement in pursuing them.
If there are no relevant items to think of, such as a news article or current event, ask questions that require more than a closed or canned response. Tell me about yourself. Who is your greatest influence or mentor? Give me an example of the perfect day in your life.
12. Inviting Someone to Ask the Questions to Start a Conversation
If an individual isn’t keen on getting too personal, invite them to ask questions. Giving someone this opportunity could take the pressure off of them, so they don’t feel obliged to divulge too much about themselves until they are ready.
An example of how to start a conversation this way may include phrases such as: Ask me anything – what would you like to know? Is there anything I can provide that will help you? Some people want to inquire about a job or topic, but they may not simply ask until they’re invited.
This technique is an engaging way to learn more about another person on a date. Some people talk a lot about themselves, though this may be due to nervousness or not knowing what to say. A simple “tell me about yourself” or “what’s your story?” is a great point where a person can turn the discussion around and keep it going.
13. Look for Cues to Strike up a Conversation
Is a person fashion-forward or sporty? Do their eyes light up at the mention of an upcoming rock music concert or social event? This is the ideal cue to pick up on in beginning conversations. From an article of clothing to talking about nature, anything unique can indicate where to begin and what to ask.
Many individuals appreciate a keen, observant eye and will gladly indulge in conversations centered around a specific passion or hobby. Even the most subdued and quiet individuals have something to say about a topic. Whether they are avid readers or enjoy talking online, bring those ideas to life in an engaging discussion by showing that you’re paying attention.
If a person is avoidant and not looking to engage in any conversations, it’s best to find another person to talk to and get to know them. In time, the individual may find themselves in a better position to begin talking until then, give them space, and only engage if their body language looks inviting.
14. Get a Conversation Going with Verbal Cues
Getting someone’s attention is just the beginning. Continuing the discussion means keeping it interesting and unique, so they want to talk. Once the dialogue has begun, show the other person that you’re actively listening with verbal and non-verbal cues. A simple nod or verbal affirmation, such as “uh-huh” or “yes,” can go a long way to making the other person feel heard and understood.
Alternatively, if their verbal cues are avoidant in nature, such as folding arms across the chest or looking away to avoid contact, this will create tension or end the interaction sooner. On the other hand, continuing the discussion means showing you want to hear what the other person says and that you’re fully engaged.
15. Keep it Funny and Entertaining
Most people appreciate a sense of humor, especially in an informal setting, such as a party. If you’re familiar with a specific group of people or networking field, humor can go a long way to making a great impression. A great conversation doesn’t have to be serious all the time – liven it up with some humor.
It’s also important to be natural and not try too hard, as this could have the opposite effect. If one or two jokes are not considered funny, move past this phase and keep the dialogue positive. Keep it natural, and make fun observations or comments that are light-hearted to keep the flow of talk fun for everyone.
Most people may not expect this as a way to start a dialogue, but it will likely get their attention and keep them intrigued. When common phrases and starters are expected, sometimes it’s better to stay one step ahead and make someone think. At the very least, you’ll find out something new about an individual that most people might not, even people who know them better then you do. It’s also a fantastic way to touch on many unique topics and facts that aren’t usually brought up for discussion, but they are fascinating and make a great start.
A Summary: How to Start a Conversation and Keep it Going
Whether there’s a deep conversation on the horizon or just small talk, it’s important to maintain an amicable discussion. While light controversy or a civil debate can work well sometimes, in most cases, it’s best to reserve heavier topics for discussions once there’s mutual comfort and boundaries established. A friendly interaction is usually the best way to begin a relationship or establish a strong rapport, which can further develop future discussions.
Discussions don’t have to be perfectly planned or executed to begin a good dialogue. Ask questions that show genuine care and always talk to people like a friend. Networking is just one example of how talking can build a good rapport and memorable conversation that will make a stunning first impression. Not everyone is a master of dialogue, though, with a little practice, there’s a lot of potential for great conversations and connections with people.