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Conversation Starters

Heather Grace. 08 June 2015, 2:36 pm
Conversation Starters

Breaking the ice with a stranger can feel awkward. But it doesn't have to be.

This post looks at simple tips for getting a conversation up and running, with someone you would like to get to know better.

You may have found yourself sitting next to someone at a conference or a training session wondering how to even begin. Well, make it easy on yourself. A simple introductory remark is really all you need. And if you don't want to simply introduce yourself, comment on your surroundings, remarking on the event, the day, the weather, the view from your conference table, anything that is immediately accessible to the person you are addressing.

Starting with a remark that is appropriate to where you are or to what you are doing is inclusive. Your fellow stranger is experiencing the same thoughts. You have something in common by being in the same place at the same time. The good news is, just making a statement doesn't putany pressure on your fellow stranger to reply. They don't have to think too hard about what to do next and it is easy for them to simply agree, with a nod or a smile. But when you get this simple response, you have broken the ice.

That part is easy. The next step is to introduce yourself and perhaps offer your hand to shake hands. Simply say "I'm Ben" or "Hi, my name is Ben by the way" or whatever feels right for you. Just keep it simple. Usually you will find that your fellow stranger will then tell you their name as well. That's really all there is to it.

The next step is finding out a little bit more about each other. To do this, you need to ask questions, but it is better to stay with some safe questions to start with. For example, ask them if they are enjoying the event or if it is their first time doing this activity, or why they decided to come along. If the first questions relate to where you are and what you are doing, you are still on common ground.

Listen to their reply and that may give you ideas about other questions you can ask. Share your own thoughts and a little bit about yourself as well. You will find that closed questions don't help you to continue the conversation, because you may only get a "yes" or "no" answer. Here are some examples of questions that will make conversation difficult:

  • Do you like books?
  • Do you come here often?
  • Is this your first job?
  • Do you have any hobbies?

Instead, try asking open ended questions, so that your fellow stranger will be able to talk a little more about themselves. Try questions such as:

  • What sorts of books do you like reading?
  • How often have you been to one of these events?
  • What did you do before you came here?
  • What do you like doing when you are not at work?

The next most important thing to do, is listen. Really listen! Show that you are listening by nodding, smiling, and keeping eye contact. Make encouraging remarks along the way, as appropriate, such as: "wow" or "that sounds scary" or "that must have been fun". To keep them engaged in conversation and to find out more about them, you can delve a little deeper by saying thing like "gosh, what did you do then?" or "how did you decide to do that?" or "what got you interested in the first place?"

When you are first getting to know someone it is best to stick to "small talk" for a while. This means keeping to topics such as which part of the world you have visited, where you live now, what you have studied, what jobs you have had, your hobbies, or if you have children. As you chat, look for some common ground. Perhaps you both like skiing, or you have both been to the Niagara Falls. This will give you more to talk about as you can share similar experiences and compare your impressions.

Starting conversations takes practice, but it does get easier each time you give it a go. So follow these simple tips and see where it takes you! In the next article we will look at some more do's and don'ts as you get deeper into conversation and really start to know each other better. In themeantime - happy talking!

Success With Grace is home of the TechBiz Success Academy, specialising in helping technology based businesses grow. For information about TechBiz training and coaching please contact Heather Grace directly


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