It’s one thing to start an interesting conversation with someone you know, focusing on a common interest or a shared experience.
But what if it were just as easy to start conversations with people you don’t know yet? Who wouldn’t love that?
Small talk probably doesn’t come to mind when someone asks you what you love to do, but once you learn what to say to start a conversation, you might just take small talk off the list of things you dread.
Once you know how to have a conversation with anyone — using the tips and topics in this article — you won’t have to dread social events with people you don’t know (or don’t know well). You’ll know how to start a conversation that both parties to it will enjoy.
Curious yet? Read on to become a conversation master.
How to Start a Conversation: 12 Easy Ways To Start a Conversation With Anyone
Starting a conversation isn’t so hard when you have at least a rough idea of what’s safe to talk about, as well as what topics to avoid.
It’s not all about the words, though. A big part of a successful conversation has to do with what the rest of you is doing while your lips are moving (or while the other person’s are).
So, whether you’re struggling to think of topics to talk about, or you’re preoccupied with whether you’ll manage to alienate this new person in record time without even trying, take a moment and read the tips that follow.
Then, when you’re faced with someone new, try to remember that you have at least as good a chance at making a good impression on the other person as they have of making a good impression on you.
Take responsibility for your own thoughts and expectations, but don’t waste time and attention mentally criticizing yourself for what you’re doing wrong.
You might still be nervous the first few times you apply these tips in a conversation with someone new to you. But so might they be.
So, smile and focus on the present. Take a moment to breathe, and stop worrying about past mistakes and future unknowns. They’re not invited to this conversation. You are invited, and you decide how you’ll respond to the next new person you meet.
A smile is a good way to start a conversation.
1. Ask “So, what brings you here?” or “How do you know __?”
You’re both in the same place and possibly for the same general reason, but this question is fairly common during introductions. It’s a safe question, as long as the person you’re asking isn’t there as an uninvited (and unwanted) guest.
The answer to this question very often suggests other topics to talk about. Pay attention to what the other is saying, and offer a chance to elaborate on something your new conversation partner finds interesting enough to share.
2. Ask “What’s kept you busy lately?” or “What are you up to today?”
This is similar to asking, “So, what do you do?” but better. Rather than focus on how someone earns a paycheck, this question could relate to anything the other person has spent a lot of time doing lately. It could be their job, but it could also be a personal project.
Whatever it is, the other’s answer will probably make it easy for you to follow up with another question expressing your interest in learning more.
3. Maintain a comfortable degree of eye contact.
This isn’t a staring contest, but most people like a fair amount of eye contact from the person they’re talking to.
Letting your eyes wander sends the message that either you’re bored, you’re looking for someone else, or you’re distracted by something more compelling than whatever the other is saying.
Maintaining eye contact can be difficult if you’re on the autism spectrum and find it too overwhelming to lock eyes with someone.
If you have ADHD and are feeling restless, it can also be a challenge to keep your eyes on someone else’s.
Most of us don’t maintain perfect eye contact, anyway, but if you pay attention to the other’s use of eye contact, you’re more likely to settle on a degree of it that suits you both.
4. Don’t start with your favorite topic of conversation.
The danger here is of talking too much — which is a very real danger with most of us when we get to talking about a subject we’re passionate about. It’s especially dangerous if you have ADHD or Asperger’s/Autism.
An exception to this rule would be if your favorite topic also happens to be a favorite topic of the person you’re talking to. But you’re not likely to know that right off the bat unless someone else tells you before you meet.
5. Ask “So, what do you love to do?” or “What would you do right now if you could do anything?”
These are getting-to-know-you questions, which you may decide to bypass if your conversation partner seems distracted and anxious to escape. Another possible question is “Where would you be right now if you weren’t here?”
If the other person is reticent to answer these questions or seems uncomfortable, you can fall back to less personal questions or answer the question for yourself and use your answer as a segue to a more general topic.
Not all those you meet will have a genuine interest in answering getting-to-know-you questions, but as a rule, asking a question that invites the other to tell you more about him- or herself is a better strategy than talking about yourself.
6. If the other person talks first and suggests a topic, ask a follow-up question.
If your new conversation partner speaks up before you do and starts talking about something of common interest, ask a follow-up question to invite the other person to share what they know or to talk freely about a topic that matters to them.
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If the other person begins by asking you a getting-to-know-you question, answer with as much information as you feel comfortable sharing and invite the other to answer the same question.
7. Comment on something (non-political) in the news.
You can scan the news headlines beforehand and comment on something that isn’t likely to lead to a heated political discussion. Here are some ideas:
- Entertainment news and pop culture
- News related to famous athletes or popular sporting events
- News on upcoming cultural events
- News of a grand opening for an interesting business or cultural center
8. Start positive (Try not to start with a complaint).
Don’t start off by complaining about something unless you can lighten the mood by successfully making the other laugh.
Don’t assume, though, that you’ll be able to do this. Starting on a negative note can leave an immediate unflattering impression on the other person.
Unless you’re keeping it light and avoiding sensitive subjects, steer clear of complaints and focus on something you can both be grateful for (like the weather, the food, a recent happy event, etc.) — or at least something you can both laugh at.
9. React to the other’s comment in the same spirit in which it was offered.
So, for example, if the other person is talking about something that makes her angry, don’t laugh in response. Or if the other tells a joke and laughs about it, try to laugh back — at least a little — rather than staring blankly and then changing the subject.
You don’t have to laugh if the other person makes an off-color joke. If the conversation makes you uncomfortable, there’s nothing wrong with excusing yourself and walking away.
10. Don’t be afraid of being a little inappropriate.
If your conversation partner brings up a topic you find intensely interesting, don’t be afraid to show it — even if your questions might sound (in retrospect) mildly inappropriate.
Don’t be afraid to show some of your quirks if you both get swept away by your passionate interest in the topic.
Please don’t take this to mean that it’s ever okay to make inappropriate sexual comments about the other person or anyone else. By “mildly inappropriate,” we mean not quite socially fitting (or what’s considered “normal”). Another word for that is “weird.” We celebrate weirdness.
But we do not celebrate ickiness. Steer clear of that.
11. Don’t imitate the other person’s accent or mannerisms.
People generally find this annoying, even if you do it well and especially if you do it badly.
If you catch yourself picking up other people’s accents and mannerisms automatically, you’re not alone. But try to catch yourself early, before the other person thinks you’re poking fun.
If you’re drawn to the other person’s accent, there’s nothing wrong with pointing that out. It may not be 100% socially appropriate to say something like, “Don’t mind me, just please keep talking. I love your accent!” it might lighten the mood a bit and help you both relax.
12. Use appropriate body language.
Conversations are about more than what you say with your voice. Pay attention to your body language (aside from eye contact, which we mentioned earlier), and, if necessary, change it to make your conversation partner more comfortable.
- Don’t stand too close or too far away.
- Don’t fold your arms (unless you’re angry and have good reason to be).
- No finger-pointing — especially not in someone’s face.
- Try to keep your hand gestures from stealing the show (or knocking things over).
- Try not to stim during the conversation – or find a way to do so discreetly.
If you’re a habitual fidgeter (as many with autism and ADHD are), you’ll want to get verification from someone you trust that your idea of discreet is actually discreet and not likely to send the wrong message.
BONUS: 9 Easy Conversation Topics To Use For Small Talk
Rather than rack your brain for random things to talk about, why not choose one of the following conversation topics?
- What’s in the news? (But steer clear of politics and religion.)
- Weather: “Here I thought I was going to need an umbrella today…” or “Could the weather be any better for this?”
- Arts & Entertainment (movies, books, restaurants, cultural events, etc.)
- Sports & Games: “Do you enjoy any sports?” or “What games do you play on your phone?”
- Family: “Tell me about your family,” or “What do you like to do with your family?”
- Work: “How did you become a ?” Or “What do you like best about being a ?” Just don’t ask how much they earn from it or whether the job keeps them “comfortable.”
- Travel: “Where would you go if you could go anywhere?”
- Hobbies: “What do you like to do for fun?” or “Do you have any (creative) projects you love to spend time on?”
- Hometown: “Where are you from?” and “What brought you here?” You could also ask if they’re planning to stay in the area or if they’re thinking of moving to a different one (or back “home”).
Your starting conversation should engage the other person with a topic that interests you both – at least to some degree. Try any of these topics until the other begins answering more easily and with greater interest.
And don’t forget to breathe and enjoy yourself. You’re not being punished. And practice will strengthen your social muscle and make these first meetings easier and more fruitful.
Did you find this helpful?
Has this article helped you feel better prepared and less nervous about the prospect of starting a conversation with someone new? If so, would you please pass it on (by sharing it on your preferred social media platform) to help others who struggle with small talk and meeting new people?
You never know whom you might help with the content you share. And whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, we all have our challenges in the social realm. It can’t hurt to keep a list handy of things to start a conversation.
Just remember to focus on the present moment and banish all thoughts of past mistakes and worries about what could happen. Allow yourself to be who and what you are, without apologies and with a genuine interest in what the other person brings to the conversation.
And may your curiosity and thoughtfulness influence everything else you do today.