Monthly Archives: November 2012

More Conversation Ignition – Proven Ways to Start a Great Conversation that Grabs People

This post is an extract from my book Conversation Ignition – Simple Conversation Starters that Get People Talking available at and

How to Start a Great Conversation

We’ve gone through a few icebreakers already, but the more you have available, the less likely you are to be stuck when getting a conversation going. There are a number of verbal examples here, along with several other types of tips that can coach you to conversing successfully.

How Do I Say It?

You say it in more ways than just words, is the short answer. Your nonverbal communication such as leaning just slightly toward the other person once in a while can display that you’re intently listening. Make it subtle – you don’t want to scare them, or lose your balance! Seriously, less is more, but if you’re maintaining good eye contact and smiling frequently, all of these nonverbal signals indicate to the other party that you’re involved and a great listener.

Your energy should be good, your enthusiasm evident and authentic. If you’re tired, avoid yawning if possible, lest you should come across as bored with the conversation. Keep the volume of your voice clearly audible, but not too loud. Depending upon the surroundings in which you find yourself, you may need to adjust the volume of your speech. Do your best to speak in modulated tones, avoiding any tendency towards a monotone.

One way to become more comfortable with the sound of your own voice is to record some “mock” conversations – if you have a friend who is willing to do this with you, that’s great. If you are alone you can play both roles. For the majority of people, it’s amazing how differently we sound “in our head” to ourselves as opposed to listening as objectively as possible to a recording. Listening to such recordings can go a long way in helping you grow accustomed to the fluidity of your voice and keeping it pleasantly modulated.

Another good idea is to record yourself on a video camera, and watch as well as listen to the playback. Make sure you’re staying engaged in the conversation, smiling, looking sincerely interested. For the video recording, it’s best if you have a partner to practice with. If you know any aspiring actors, they are always willing to be recorded, so that’s a good place to start when seeking a partner for this exercise. If your partner is a bit camera shy, however, they can simply hold and operate the camera and you can look directly at them as you give your answers. You are most interested in how you are coming across, after all, so that method works well, too.

Persistence vs. Exiting the Conversation

When you happen to find yourself in conversation with someone who gives little or no reaction, although walking away may be your first instinct, do your best to persist and see if you can turn the situation around. Everyone has challenging days from time to time, and if you are able to avoid taking their reluctance to participate personally, you’ll feel better, whether they jump in or not. In other words, their silence or reticence to chat very much could have to do with something that happened to them today, or recently in their personal life – no reflection upon you whatsoever. So don’t “bail” too soon.

Here are some ways you might try adapting to and/or turning this scenario around…

If you’ve tried about three ice breakers and have gotten no response other than perhaps a polite smile, why not try saying, “How was your day?”(or week, or weekend, as the case may be). Sometimes that simple question alone can give someone permission to release a reservoir of thoughts and feelings, so be prepared. If you still gain no real participation from them, then you could try a lighthearted comment about something, such as a movie you’ve recently seen and really enjoyed. Then follow that up with, “Have you seen any films or TV shows that you really enjoyed lately?”

Another attempt you may choose to loosen them up might be along the lines of telling a funny anecdote or joke, if you know some really good ones. If they laugh and become engaged, you could always ask, “What’s the funniest story you’ve heard lately,” or “What’s the most amusing thing that happened to you recently?” If they still refuse to jump in, then it’s perfectly fine to excuse yourself with a phrase such as, “Great meeting you,” (or “seeing you”, if you’ve met before) and just add, “Take care,” as you nod politely, smile and move on.

Creative Use of Questions

There’s a fine line between asking too many questions, and not asking enough. This is just another one of those skills that improve with practice.

Tonality and vocal modulation when asking questions is important, too. You don’t want to sound like you’re interrogating someone! Just be polite, take an interest, seek their opinion and get to know them. Remember – to be more interesting, be more interested.

What follows are some examples of questions that you may like to play with, or use them to inspire you to create some of your own.

Types of Conversational Questions

Geographic: If it’s true, you can start by saying, “I just moved here recently, and one of my favorite things about this place is ________________” or “I’ve lived here all my life, and I’ve always loved…” – whatever is applicable to you. Then you can easily lead into, “How long have you lived here?” and when they answer, if it feels comfortable, you could ask them some of their favorite features of the city/area. “What restaurants do you recommend?” or “Where are some of the best places to go dancing?” are other ways of getting them engaged.

Sometimes starting out with one of your own recommendations or favorite “hot spots” or local events, etc., proves to be a good icebreaker which opens the door to ask them to reciprocate and offer their own recommendations, if they have some. If not, for instance if they’re brand new in town, or just visiting, you can then ask, “Oh! Well, what kinds of (events/food, etc.) do you enjoy? I’ll be glad to share some of my “5 Star” recommendations. That can keep the conversation going. Politely persist – it often pays off!

Family and Friends: Again, it’s often good to start out with a brief statement about yourself, so you don’t come across as an “inquisitor.” Something simple like, “My family loves coming to visit me here. They all live ____________ (fill in the blank) and really enjoy ______________ about this city.” That can easily segue into, “Do you have family here in town or close by?” If they simply respond, “No,” then you can go on with, “I see. Do you get to visit them often, then?” hopefully prompting them to talk about their family, where those folks are located. If it’s still “no dice” then you could try, “I have made some amazing friends here. How about you?”

If you have children, you can always start with, “I have two great kids – they amaze me with some of the crazy things they say. Do you have children?” Don’t pull out the pictures of your kids right away – if they seem truly interested, or are a parent themselves, then showing off your pics is a natural way to break the ice. The same technique works if you’re an animal lover and find another kindred spirit. For some people, their pets are like their kids. The main thing to remember is that when you get a positive response to a question, such as their eyes lighting up, their energy level increasing, more smiling – stick with that topic for a while. Be that excellent interested listener and put them and yourself at ease.

Career: This one can seem old and worn out at times. A good case has been made by others who write about the art of conversation that “What someone does for a living is not who they are.” That’s true; however, most people, providing they really love their work, are more than happy to talk at least for a little while about their career path.

Though it’s a bit trite, once they’ve told you what they do for a living, you can keep the steam going in the conversation by saying, “That sounds interesting! What are some of your favorite aspects of your job?” or maybe, “Wow, I’ll bet that’s challenging! How long have you done that?” These questions can lead to getting their “back story” on what their degree was in, what position they took first, etc. Then you can trade your own stories as well, so think about them and some of the more interesting aspects of your own career, so that you can talk about them easily.

Entertainment: This is a safe topic of conversation. “I went to this great concert the other night and heard ________________.” Give them a moment to respond, but if they don’t, you can ask, “What kinds of music do you enjoy most?” Then try to find some common ground about great concert experiences, why you both love certain groups or music genres, and so on. It’s been pointed out already, but deserves repeating because you can get quite a lot of mileage out of the topic of entertainment, and very rarely offend anyone’s belief systems!

You can keep the conversational ball in the air, so to speak, by asking similar questions such as, “What’s the best movie you saw recently?” (or the worst one), or “What’s your favorite film of all time?” Almost everyone has at least one favorite movie. Then you can say, “What do you like most about it?” The same type of questions cross apply to television shows, radio talk shows, books – you name it!

Sports: You want to make sure that the person is at least a little enthusiastic about sports before you just “wax poetic” about how awesome the Knicks are! One way to avoid going down a dead end is just to say, “Are you into sports at all?” If so, they’ll very likely mention their favorite sport or team, and then you can add information about your own sports fan status. If you love to play sports rather than just observe them, talk about that, what position you play or played, and ask, “Do you play any sports?” if they say no, you could try, “Were you ever into sports when you were a kid? Which ones?” If it happens that you’re having the conversation during the Olympics, or just before or after, that will automatically give you more conversation fuel.

News: Local news is usually less controversial than national or international, but if you dive into this topic, it’s best to open with something you are comfortable discussing which is unlikely to make waves. Again, politics is a good topic to avoid as a rule; but when a big election is going on, it’s a common road to go down. In that case, discussing the more intriguing points of debates is certainly acceptable, and sometimes very enlightening. It just depends upon the person, and the venue in which you are talking. If you’re really into politics, then talk on! Do try to get the other party to check in with their opinions, so you don’t overstay your welcome on the subject.

A good rule of thumb is to remember not to monopolize the conversation, but also to be sure to insert your own opinions and comments when you’re asking questions and listening to their responses. Be an active listener – as you perfect this skill, you’ll find that it helps you move onto various topics with ease. Practice and persist – you’ll succeed!

If you liked this extract from Conversation Ignition you can find out more at and

Conversation Ignition – The Best Conversation Starters for Different Types of People

This post is an extract from my new kindle book Conversation Ignition – Simple Conversation Starters that Get People Talking which is available at and

Comfortably Converse With Anyone in Your Circle Of Influence

As unique as all individuals are, we also all have unique “links” to a number of people in our circle of influence. For example, you may not wish to talk about exactly the same topics with your close friends as you do with your family, neighbors, community members, acquaintances, coworkers, or new folks that you meet in social situations.

So now it’s time to look at starting conversations with the various sectors/groups or genres, if you prefer, of your circle of influence, and hopefully you’ll continue growing more comfortable each step of the way as you practice, practice, practice.

Conversation Starters for Friends You See Infrequently

There are some obvious choices here, such as, “How’ve you been?” or “What have you been up to lately?” If you have several mutual friends in common, some of whom you do stay in touch with more frequently, you can always open with, “I saw/talked with _________ not too long ago, and heard that your brother got engaged!” or something along those lines. This lets the less frequently visited friend know you’re still interested in what’s going on in their life, but prefer to get the details from them. You can certainly begin with an update on your own status as an icebreaker – “I got a new job a couple of years ago in _____________ (field of endeavor) and I really love it. Are you still working in _______________?”

Other safe topics include travel, vacations since you’ve last met/talked, updates on family members and those lovely mutual friends. Once you get back on track and feeling like you’ve picked up exactly wherever it was that you left off, then you can get into more meaty topics and thorough details, if you like. If you prefer to keep it lighter, talk about entertainment, sports – things you know that you’re mutually interested in. It’s just good manners to start things off by catching up, though, and showing a real personal interest rather than launching into too much small talk. It depends upon how close you have been/still want to be with each individual. Enjoy!

Talking with Good Friends

This includes the ones you do see regularly, so by and large, initiating and participating in conversation with those who fit into this category should be a no-brainer. Bring up topics you know they love talking about, or pick up where you last left off with any relationship, career or other life issue updates. If they are really what you consider a “good friend,” odds are you never have much trouble talking as a rule; at least not that often. You can always resort to the standard “safe” topics, depending on your relationship with them. However often with close friends, it’s perfectly fine to talk about religion or politics – two subjects that are generally “taboo” with folks you don’t know all that well.

Hopefully, anyone you categorize as a “good” or “close” friend is someone with whom you can discuss and share anything. So go for it!

Chatting with Family Members

Again, the level at which you converse with your family members depends upon your relationship with each one. Most people have a favorite sibling or cousin, and then there are others with whom you don’t interact that much – either by choice, or else that’s just the way it is.

Still, we tend to know something about our family members and their interests, immediate family members (kids, parents, etc), and so that’s always a polite as well as easy place to start. Such as, “Hey, I just got back from visiting Grandma in Florida a few months ago. She’s doing really well. Do you get to talk to her much?”

If you have children, you can always pull out the photos, or if your family member has kids, ask to see the most recent pics. This is always a great icebreaker. Same with pets, or if they’re avid about traveling or really any particular topic and may have photos, ask away. It will help you both get into a comfortable groove quickly.

What about your cousin Ichabod whom you have (and for good reason) avoided like the plague for years? What happens when you see him at a family reunion, for example? Well, either be prepared to endure his boring harangue about something you’d really prefer to never hear about (if that’s why you’ve avoided him all this time), or just walk by quickly, maybe give him a quick slap on the shoulder and say, “How you doing, Ich?” and keep going, maintaining eye contact with a family member you genuinely click with who’s just beyond where good ol’ Ichabod is standing. Just because you’re related to someone doesn’t mean you’re going to like every person in your family tree. And truly, that’s okay. Do your best to be polite and courteous, but don’t let yourself get roped into a long conversation that’s going to be uncomfortable and/or boring. Move on!

Talking to Neighbors

“Howdy, Neighbor!” People were more apt to connect frequently with their neighbors a few decades ago than they are nowadays, but it’s always a good idea to cultivate at least a friendly acquaintance with a few of your neighbors. After all, at one time or another you may, or they may need someone to pet sit, keep an eye on the house while away on vacation, and just keep a sort of “neighborhood watch” going for the safety of all on your block. Striking up conversation with neighbors is not all that different from talking with others in your circle of influence.

One thing to remember is that neighbors always like to talk about anything that’s been going on down the street, or nearby. Not just gossip, but observation – for instance, “Hey, I see your next door neighbor had a new roof put on last week. I need to do that soon, myself. Do you happen to know what contractor they used?” Commenting on any home improvement they themselves have made is always a great way to get the conversation up and running. Compliments are always excellent icebreakers, so if they got a new vehicle recently, you could say, “I really like the lines on your new car, Dave!” Opening with something that has a personal flavor is a good way to branch out into other topics.

You may be fortunate enough to have a neighbor or two that you count among your good friends. If that’s the case, then any common interests you share, or topics which you already know they are enthusiastic about are good choices of conversation, just as with friends.

If you’re at a community meeting, such as a town council meeting or event, you can begin with a generalized comment, such as, “It’s great to see so many people in attendance,” or “I’ve been waiting for the community members to join together on this issue – glad to see it happening!” If you get some positive feedback/reciprocal input, then you can move onto other topics, but after all – if you’re all there for a common cause or to enjoy a town event, there’s really nothing more logical than at least touching upon the reason you’re there first. Then you can let the conversation take off in whatever directions are most natural and comfortable.

Talking with Acquaintances

Here’s one place that an excellent memory can really serve you well – when you run into someone whose acquaintance you’ve made before, but haven’t really had the chance to learn much about their interests, hobbies, or life in general. If you can remember one key thing that came up last time you saw them and ask for an update, it will be a good testament to what a great listener you are. For instance, “Hi, Harry! Great to see you again. Last time I saw you, I believe you mentioned your son was about to graduate high school. Is he working, or in college now?” or maybe, “I seem to recall you had a lovely German shepherd with you last time we met. How’s your dog doing?”

Any little tidbit like that really impresses people. So if you don’t have a good memory for such minor incidents, then now is the time to start cultivating it. Try associating something specific about the acquaintance to their name that will help you bring the factoid back up to the surface next time you run into them at the supermarket, block party, or wherever it may be.

For example, you could commit to memory, “His name’s Bill Miller and he drives a Corolla…” then shorten it to just, “Bill’s Corolla” If you really apply a bit of dedicated practice to committing details to memory, you’ll find you get good at it. Again – keep practicing! The better your memory, the easier the conversation gets going, and the more likely you may be able to turn the “acquaintance” into a “friend.”

Office or Work Talk

Whether you hang out around the water cooler, in the employee lounge or the cafeteria, exchanging pleasantries with coworkers is a good practice to master. This involves avoiding office gossip – all that does is eventually make you a pariah. This means even not listening when other people are “dishing the dirt” about a boss, coworker or other staff member to avoid giveing the impression that you are interested in it, and not above continuing to spread the gossip. It’s much more empowering to walk away from it, or if you’re comfortable doing so, try changing the subject, perhaps by saying, “Did anyone see the premier of _______________ on TV last night?” Then give a brief opinion on it. You can mention sports or other recent news, the weather – whatever you like. Even if no one takes the hint and quits gossiping, then definitely you are doing yourself and certainly the subject(s) of the gossip a huge favor. Have some integrity, and maintain your professionalism. People will remember that, too.

As far as small talk or telling a lot of jokes with coworkers, do your best to keep that to a minimum, too. Smile, be pleasant, and certainly engage in conversation now and then, but never so much so that it detracts your energy and attention away from your work. Better to make plans with like-minded coworkers to meet up for some activity after work, or to have lunch together now and again. It’s way too easy to fall into a pattern of frittering your time away by being too much of a chatterbox, and whether it seems like it or not in the moment, someone is bound to be noticing that you’re not staying focused on your job. So the key rule here is “be friendly, but always stay professional.”

New People in Social Situations

This aspect of mastering the art of conversation starters has already been addressed a little in the previous chapters, and will be delved into in more detail in the pages which follow. The main point is to get in plenty of practice, and you’ll notice your confidence and abilities grow and improve.

This post is an extract from my book Conversation Ignition – Simple Conversation Starters that Get People Talking available at and