This week, I’m heading to the biggest conference of the year for professional speakers, the National Speakers Association’s Influence 2017 and I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to see old friends and meet new ones. As a professional communicator, you’d think starting a conversation with a new person is easy for me, but it’s not always been easy. I used to feel “fake” and uncomfortable walking up to someone and saying, “Hi . . . I’m Amy . . .” and just waiting for the other person to respond. What if the person just says, “I’m Bob,” and that’s it?
However, over the years I’ve learned that getting a conversation started is a lot easier if you try something other than just introducing yourself. Since the other person probably doesn’t know any better than you do where to take the conversation, having a few conversation starters ready to go can be a big help.
Here are five conversation starters that will work for you in both social and business situations.
1. Share something about yourself other than just your name. This is one of the easiest ways to get a conversation started. For example, if the event is a work function, you might mention what you do or what department you’re from. If it’s a neighborhood or community function, you might mention where you live, or your connection to the community group.
2. Refer to the event. If you’re standing around and someone you’d like to speak with is standing next to you, you might say, “They sure have a great turnout this year, don’t they?” or “They really did a great job with the decorations (or food).” Any type of positive comment can help break the ice. However, never start off with a negative comment, if you think the food is bad, keep that thought to yourself. You never know, the person standing next to you might have been the one to make it!
3. Ask people about themselves. People like to talk about themselves, therefore, a simple question about what they do for a living, where they work, or what they do in their spare time, will generally get them talking and a conversation started. When you ask these questions, it’s great if you have a follow-on question ready, especially if the person gives a short answer. If the person says, “I’m an accountant,” and that’s it, you could ask where he or she works, what’s the best part of the job, what got him or her interested in that field.
4. Ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions encourage people to elaborate, whereas closed-ended questions will result in a one word or yes/no response. Rather than asking, “You volunteer at the animal shelter, right?” instead ask, “What’s the best part about volunteering at the animal shelter?”
5. Provide a sincere compliment. A sincere compliment about a new haircut, an attractive tie, or a unique watch will put you on the other person’s “nice” list quickly. Then, you can always follow up with questions that ask for more details about the item, such as where it came from, how long the person has had it, etc.
What other ways have you found to get successfully get conversations going? Comment and share them now!