I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not good with small talk.
But I’ve gotten better over the years.
One big key is just being a good listener. Asking questions. Making the other person feel special and important. Being genuinely interested in what they want to discuss.
But part of that is having some good ammo for starting the conversation. Being able to figure out some common ground.
Here are a few conversation starters that have worked well for me over the years.
1. What are you spending time doing right now?
It’s just a little different from the usual, What’s up? And I don’t really mind that one either. I like to keep it simple. Let the other person kind of fill in the blanks once you break the ice. But this one gets a little more involved. They could talk about their kids or work, but it often yields some interesting conversation about a challenge or about a hobby and those usually make for some good conversation.
2. What music has your attention?
Nearly 100% of people are into music. Music of some kind. Maybe not the same exact kind as you, but most people are also curious about what others are listening to. When I was in college things were moving from CDs to digital. You could put 10,000 song downloads on your iPod. I had a friend that would bring his iPod to every friend’s house and download their entire list.
3. What’s giving you headaches at the moment?
People like to talk about their struggles. Family, work, personal life issues. It’s like getting a free therapy session to talk it out with someone. Even if you’re at a networking event and you ask this to break the ice you’ll usually get some good conversation about work. And you never know if you can help the person. Good salespeople often lead with this one.
4. Who has got your attention? (for positive reasons)
Try to keep this one positive. You’ll get into some good talk about hobbies mostly. Things that people are into that they really like doing. It’s usually interesting to talk to someone new about what they’re passionate about. And because you don’t know them that well you can always bow out after a few minutes if you’re getting bored or if you’re not that interested.
5. What has been on your to do list the longest?
Another good one for the networking setting. People often have something on their to do list that they haven’t been able to get around to. You can talk it out with them and help them move it up on their priority list or you could help them realize that maybe they should forget about it.
6. What are you working on?
Just a basic one here. Most people do like talking about their work so this can lead to some passionate discussion. But it could also lead to some side project that the person is working on and that can be passionate as well. You might hit on some common ground.
7. What are your future plans?
People often get caught up in the past and present when it comes to work. Or even in their personal lives. We’re all busy and looking back is a sign of being busy. It’s refreshing to discuss the future. And it often gets people doing some introspective thinking, which is stimulating and memorable.
8. What do you do in your free time?
Just going straight for the hobbies with this one. It can be tricky to discuss work. You can come off as if you’re judging what the person does and seeing if they’re worth you’re time. Ask about the hobbies and free time and it’s more like you’re trying to get to know the other person for what they enjoy.
9. Do you collect anything?
Another one that gets into passion and the personal. Most people collect something. And they’re almost always passionate about it. And you can really discover some interesting things by asking this question. It can give you ammo for other conversations.
10. What do you want? (in life)
Kind of like the one about the future, but a little more general. Just asking a person what they want. I like to ask this one after the conversation has moved a little bit. You break the ice. You get to know them. Maybe the person is showing frustration about work. Maybe they seem a little stuck. Use this one to help them think more about where they want to go.
It seems that networking events and meeting new people comes easy for some. Not always for me. I have to do a little homework and practice. These questions have helped me over the years. I don’t always get good responses, but most of the time they work pretty well. Try them out and see if they work for you.