4 Golden Rules for Good Conversation Starters (With Examples)

Vivify Tribe Founder

Nia MacKenzie, MSc Psychology

When you first meet someone, the last thing you want is awkwardness. Explore the best conversation starters below and find out how to use them.

conversation-starters

When you first meet someone at a social gathering or professional setting, the last thing you want is awkwardness. You want to break the ice with small talk, build rapport, and keep the conversation going. A good conversation starter is what you need.

Explore the best conversation starters below and find out how they work and when to use them.

Never Have a Boring Conversation Again

Social anxiety disorders affect 7.1% of the population of the United States alone. It’s no wonder so many people find it difficult to make conversation. So conversation starters are more than simply a list of questions to ask. They are a new way of thinking and a lifeline for many people with anxiety.

Though good questions are essential in your social skills arsenal, knowing which questions to ask and when separates the amateurs from the experts. For some people, starting a conversation comes naturally, but for many, it starts awkward, and you’re quickly wondering what to say.

You’ll soon be a master conversationalist once you understand the basics of making conversation and keeping it flowing.

Rule One: It’s About Them, Not You!

You’re missing the point if you come at someone with a line you’ve memorized, something you want to say, or a question you want to ask. Making it about you is not the way to make a connection. You must make it about them.

For example, you can take the other person’s personality into account. Do they seem introverted, extroverted, or omniverted?

You might be wondering how to make the conversation about them when you haven’t even met them yet. You just need to be observant.

Start With The Person

Look at the person as they approach you. Is there anything you see that you can comment on or ask about?

Try not to ask about something you don’t want to know. For example, don’t ask where they bought their shoes unless you have a reason.

Here are some common examples:

  • Clothes – “Cool shirt, where did you get that?”
  • Items they are holding – “Is that a trophy you’re carrying? Did you win it?”
  • Accessories – “I’ve always wanted to ask someone why they use cufflinks instead of buttons.”


Then The Place

Take a moment to consider where you are. If you’re at a sporting event, the topic of conversation is simple: talk about the team, the game, or the players.

  • Activities there – “Did you see the ref miss that last play?”
  • Past events there- “Were you here last year when the Arctic Monkeys played?”
  • Similar places – “Have you been to the track across town?”


Rule Two: It’s About You, Too!

It would be easy if you could just ask someone about themselves and off you went into a fantastic conversation, but, like dancing, chatting requires two people.

You could be the coolest Sigma male rockstar, but you still need to create a connection to start a good conversation.

Using rule one above, you might ask someone where they bought their earrings, but the question will fall flat if you don’t know anything about earrings yourself (or even have your ears pierced). You can’t continue the conversation if you’re not interested or knowledgeable in the subject matter.

  • “Where did you get those earrings? They’re lovely.”
  • “I bought them at the jewelers on Main Street.”

How do you continue the conversation? Either with your answer to the same question or with the reason you asked it.

  • “I always go to the one in the mall. Have you been there?”
  • “I’m thinking of getting a pair like that. Do they have a good selection to look at there?”


Rule Three: Ask Open-ended Questions

The best way to keep a conversation flowing is to ask open-ended questions. These are questions with no definite answer, they are subjective, and the answer is their personal preference or opinion. Open-ended questions, therefore, give you something to talk about.

Avoid asking yes/no questions. A yes or no question will quickly get you back to square one.

  • “Do you think it will rain this afternoon?”
  • “Yeah…”

Avoid asking for directions. You might be tempted to ask someone for directions because it’s an easy ice-breaker, but what will you do after they give them to you? You have to follow their directions and walk off.

  • “Do you know where the nearest Starbucks is?”
  • “Just take a right at the end of the street.”

Don’t forget to ask something.

There are times when you think you’re asking a good conversation starter, but you are, in fact, not asking anything. You’re just making a comment. Starting conversations with a statement will make the other person feel awkward.

  • “That’s a beautiful RV!”
  • “Thanks…”

Instead, you must make it easy for them to respond by adding a question to the end of your comment.

  • “That’s a beautiful RV. Have you ever driven it across the country?”
  • “Thanks, yeah, we took it on a road trip last year.”


Rule Four: Don’t Get Personal

There are a few topics of conversation you should avoid at all costs; these include:

  • Health
  • Finance
  • Illegal Activities
  • Sex
  • Religion
  • Politics

Generally speaking, these topics are not suited for a first date or conversation and could initiate an awkward silence or even an embarrassing false start.

Of course, you should consider the current situation; talking to people about religion is normal and expected if you’re in church on Sunday. Or if you were listening to a politician give a speech, politics would naturally come up in conversation.

It’s fine to bring up a topic the other person doesn’t know much about, too, like how you spent a month doing monk mode; it will make you sound unique. But avoid topics that are too obscure or unlikely to interest many people. For example, don’t start off telling them you recently tanked Onyxia in a 40-man vanilla wow raid!

Good Conversation Starters for Social Gatherings

No one expects a deep conversation at social gatherings, so there’s no need to feel anxious; a typical conversation may only last a few minutes before you move on. So keep things light and try to have fun. These conversation starters will help you make an excellent first impression.

“What are you drinking?” It’s an easy ice-breaker with many follow-up opportunities – offering to get them another, telling them what you’re drinking, etc.

“Let me guess what you do for a living. Are you a…” It doesn’t matter what you guess or whether you get it right or not. The other person will be intrigued to hear why you thought they were a teacher, accountant, lawyer, etc. It’s a much better way to start a conversation than “What do you do?”

“How do you know John?” Asking about the event’s host is an easy way to create a connection; it’s also a great conversation starter because you can answer it too. It’s an easy conversation to continue; tell some stories about John! Your conversation partner will likely follow your lead and do the same.

Conversation Starters for Professional Events

The key to proper conversation in a professional setting is never to say anything you wouldn’t want your colleagues (or boss) to hear. That means no gossip or talking behind people’s backs.

Of course, you’re not looking to make new friends here, so no questions like, “If you could have any superpower, what would it be?” They just aren’t appropriate. But you can have a wonderful conversation at networking events using these three examples.

“Have you met John? He’s in the marketing team and teaches tai chi on weekends.” Introducing someone when you meet a new colleague or work connection takes the pressure off you momentarily. There are three of you now, so there will be more to say together.

“Have you worked much with Bill? He’s pretty intense/fun/etc.” Talking about colleagues or management is a quick way to connect with someone new, especially if they, too, think he is intense or fun. Relate a story that showcases it; they might tell you one back.

“Were you at the convention last year?” Asking work colleagues about times when your paths might have crossed (even if you didn’t meet) will give you something in common to talk about. Remind them of some of the event’s highlights if they were there; if not, quickly move on.

Conversation Starters for Dates

First dates can turn the most confident alpha males into nervous betas in no time. The key is to keep it fun but don’t be scared to have a meaningful conversation if one arises. These first-date questions will give you a good idea of what to ask.

“Have you had much luck on Tinder?” First dates can be challenging, but they’re easier than trying to date with Tinder. Anyone you ask this question will undoubtedly have some horror stories to tell – keep them light-hearted and funny.

“What’s the most embarrassing first date you’ve ever had?” This question will keep a conversation going and create a fun environment for you both to tell stories.

“Have you traveled much overseas?” Of course, someone could answer no to this question which might end the conversation, but you can quickly turn it around by telling them stories about where you have been or asking them where they’d like to go in the future.

Tips for Creating Good Conversation Starters

Let’s recap some of the best tips for asking questions that are good conversation starters.

  • Find topics that will interest the other person
  • Connect the topic to yourself
  • Don’t ask yes or no questions
  • Have a continuation after the question – usually, it’s your answer
  • Have a justification for asking
  • Be specific
  • Talk or ask about people you have in common

With these tips, the rules above, and the examples in this post, you’re well on your way to mastering the art of conversation.

This article was written by Gregory Gaynor, creator of Face Dragons, and originally appeared on Wealth of Geeks.

Nia MacKenzie

Founder & Curator

Nia graduated from the University of Surrey with an MSc in Psychology. Her greatest passion is the mission to inspire people to unlock their true potential, which is why she dedicated her time to the creation of Vivify Tribe.