Conversation Starters

How do you initiate conversation with someone new at a meeting or convention? Ashley Fidel believes the most common icebreaker, “So, what do you do?” is unmemorable and fails to jumpstart meaningful interaction. On, she suggests some alternatives. None focus on work, which is intentional. “I have found that my best professional relationships start with a casual conversation and genuine connection. Then, once you’ve established a friendly tone, conversation about jobs, opportunities, and professional advice tends to flow naturally,” Fidel writes.

Here are her ideas for better icebreakers:

  1. “Do you have any trips coming up?” Everyone likes to chat about the vacation they are planning, or just returned from.
  2. “Are you watching House of Cards?” Referencing a current event or popular show is a great way to get a conversation going.
  3. “I’m planning a birthday dinner—any recommendations?” People are always willing to talk about their favorite restaurants.
  4. “I’m looking for a new book. Read any good ones lately?” Discussing books makes people feel smart.
  5. “I love your necklace. Where is it from?” Jewelry often has a story—maybe it is an heirloom from her grandmother, or she bought it in Africa.
  6. “I skipped my spin class tonight. What’s your favorite workout routine?” This conversation starter can morph into follow-up plans to exercise together.
  7. “I slipped on the stairs coming in. it was so embarrassing.” A self-deprecating story can ease tension and elicit funny tales from others.

Smart Meeting Events Experiment with different openers to see which elicit the best responses. Fidel recommends avoiding the common icebreakers below, which often fall flat:

  1. “Did you have trouble getting here?” Discussing commutes is acceptable only if something funny or unusual happened in transit, which is rare.
  2. “Where do you live?” Ask this only at an event attracting individuals from around the country or globe.
  3. “Isn’t the weather awful?” This statement elicits only yawns.
  4. “Don’t you find this event boring?” Stop complaining. The person may have organized the event, or could be a BFF of the speaker.
  5. “I think I’m coming down with the flu.” Don’t discuss your sickness—it may give your new contact hesitations about shaking your hand.
  6. “I can’t believe I made it here; I am so overworked.” No one wants to hear about your long to-do list.