The first thing to mention that will immediately improve conversation skills are conversation starters.
What are the first words to come out of your mouth?
A good conversation starter can transform an awkward, forced conversation into an interesting, very pleasant conversation. It’s important to have a variety of conversation starters in your back pocket. Once you do, you will see how much easier it is to form connections with co-workers, customers, partners, or anyone you meet at a social event.
Improving your conversation skills and having the ability to easily start a conversation translates to more opportunities and more meaningful relationships in your life. This = happier life.
So, what makes a good conversation starter? How will this improve conversation skills?
Well, let’s talk about the 7 categories of conversation starters you need to know:
1. Open-ended: These are the most impactful conversation starters and what you can use in every conversation. A broad question typically generates far more engaging answers than a yes or no question.
2. Random: Break out of the regular weather and job-related questions to improve your conversation skills. Nothing is wrong starting with basic starters but surprise the person you’re talking to out of their mundane conversation routine. Don’t be afraid to ask random questions to get a conversation going or to spice it up!
3. Professional: Some topics are more appropriate for your friends and family than people you’re just meeting, especially at a professional event. Your questions should never make your conversational partner uncomfortable during networking events. Have some talking points about your industry, the event or people you’d like to meet.
4. Nearby: Start a conversation about something timely or specific, such as your location, an event you’re at, what someone is wearing, or current interests. The other person will find it easier to contribute to the conversation.
5. Learning: If you’re attending a conference or event, ask other attendees about something they learned. Or, ask them to teach you something you don’t know. “Tell me more about that!”
6. Content: Ask if they recommend any books, blogs, podcasts, or videos. You might find a mutual interest that you can talk about.
7. Fun Facts: Start conversations about where they work, their favorite food and restaurants in the area, or chat about something they learned recently. Fun facts are ideal for networking events or happy hours to use during a conversation. Here’s a fun fact: Did you know the famous line in Titanic from Leonardo DiCaprio, “I’m king of the world!” was improvised.
Alright, you now have an idea of which category of conversation starters you can use before or during a social event.
Let’s make our way into specific examples and the strategy of how you can start a conversation with anyone, improving your conversation skills right now!
Strategies you can use to start the conversation.
Use basic topics or simple questions that are “safe” topics or “feelers”, giving you an idea about who the person is or what their personality is like.
Using “safe” questions will also give you an idea of which direction you can take the conversation in.
An example of a safe (but wise and effective) introduction would be,
“Hey, it’s great to meet you. I’m Joe. What do you think of the event?
Or, “Beautiful day, today, isn’t it?”
This is a good place to start the beginning of a conversation because the questions are extremely basic and are safe feelers. It’s simple, and it invites the other person to potentially open up about their day, experiences, or further the conversation.
When you say, “Beautiful day today, isn’t it?”, it’s a strategy used to feel out the person’s desire to have a conversation. It’s a feeler question.
If the person you’re talking to doesn’t say anything, then it’s clear they don’t want to talk. But, if the enthusiastically say, “Yes it is!” Then they’re opening the door to you, welcoming you to ask more questions.
If someone is willing to talk to you, try asking open-ended questions. Here are two you can use, “what’s your day been like? or “tell me about your day”.
These two open-ended questions can help you discover more about the person in two minutes. You can learn about who they are, what their struggles have been, or simply discovering things in common.
Improve conversation skills by asking open-ended questions.
Another basic conversation starter you can ask someone you’re just meeting is, “Hey, it’s great to meet you. I’m Jake, I’m happy we’ve finally met.” – You might be thinking, this isn’t a question, and you’re right! But again, it’s another unique strategy you can try giving you a chance to start a conversation. It will offer an opportunity for the other person to say something or create more small talk.
They can say, “Yea me too! I’m glad we met” or “It’s great to meet you too. What brings you here or how’s your day been?”.
This is a signal to ask open-ended questions depending on the social situation.
It also gives you more clues or an indication of how they’re feeling through tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions.
Listen and watch how the person reacts.
You don’t always have to be responsible for creating conversation either. Both people are responsible and it should be a consistent loop when it’s a great conversation. Give the other person some room to build dialogue and conversation momentum.
Here are more examples of “safe” or “feeler” questions to start with at the very beginning of the conversation. Remember these are only meant to get an idea of where the conversation can go.
“It’s great to meet you! How are you?”
“It’s great to meet you! How’s your day been?”
“What’s your day been like?”
“Have you been here before? (If yes) What do you recommend eating?”
If it’s a morning coffee meet up – “What do you have planned for the day (work)?”
Use these questions (or small variations of them) to begin the momentum of a conversation. The questions allow you to feel out the person you’re with and continue to build toward a connection
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As we move on we’re going to go deeper and talk about 4 strategies you can use when starting a conversation. Here are more ways you can improve conversation skills.
1. Don’t be afraid of being a little random.
Keep in mind the introduction can change and be different, depending on where you are or what social situation you’re in.
Be a little random and use whatever is around you, the event you’re at, or even talk about what the other person is wearing to start a conversation. Below are a few examples:
“I love your shoes. Do you mind sharing where bought them?”
“Your lunch looks delicious. Did you make it yourself?”
“Beautiful weather isn’t it? I can’t wait to go to the beach.”
If you say almost anything with the confidence you’ll be able to create and start a conversation with momentum.
2. Bring your coolest friend.
Bringing a friend can ease up some anxiety you might have when initiating a conversation. You also won’t feel alone trying to “work” a room or “start” a conversation.
You’ll have more confidence if you’re with a friend who’s by your side and supportive.
A friend can help you improve your conversations by supporting you until you’re confident enough on your own.
3. Go where you feel comfortable having conversations. What’s your favorite place?
This can be a significant factor in having a great conversation and finding people you’re compatible with.
Finding a location, event, or meeting where you feel comfortable talking to people can be the key to socializing more comfortably and having great conversations.
Don’t drain yourself of energy by forcing yourself to go places you hate.
4. Improve conversation skills by building a strong bond.
People decide if they like someone, can trust them, or want a relationship with a person within the first few seconds of meeting. To stimulate rapport to find common ground, listen and use empathy.
Using simple techniques to show you’re a safe person use hand gestures, good posture, positive tone of voice, eye contact, say their name and never skip a handshake.
Now that you have some basic questions in your back pocket, we can move on to understanding the power of small talk.
If there’s one thing you should do to improve conversation skills it’s to become competent at small talking with anyone. It’s the first pursuit of talking to someone. And we should never underestimate the influence of small talk.
If you can learn small talk and get good at it you’ll be golden. You will improve your conversation skills very very quickly.
I know there’s a lot of people who hate small talk. But, it’s a significant part of carrying a conversation.
Small talk plays a vital role in establishing relationships – whether that relationship happens to be in a social setting or a professional one.
Small talk gives you a chance to learn important knowledge about someone. Small talk can be nerve-racking, but don’t put pressure on yourself to be perfect. Simply have fun and be open to learning and improving.
Become a good small talker and you can keep anyone talking.
Here are some ways you can use small talk to keep a conversation going and make it interesting.
Small talk is important because it initiates deeper conversations.
Carrying a conversation is like dancing. You’re unsure if you should do it because you’re nervous, or people might judge you, but once you get warmed up, you’ll feel confident and can keep going.
This is what small talk is. It’s getting the conversation ready for a deeper and more meaningful discussion. This is an essential part of carrying a conversation and improving conversation skills.
Small talk builds substance for more authentic conversations and helps create deeper relationships. A lot of people hate small talk because they think it’s superficial. But small talk takes skill, confidence, and practice.
Imagine trying to skip small talk and go straight for a deep conversation about politics or family. The conversation would probably end very quickly and awkwardly.
Small talk usually begins with general topics such as the weather, sports, where you’re from, work and school. Those things can tell us a lot about who the other person is. It allows you to evaluate another person and what their story is. It can reveal a lot, such as if they’re whiny, sad, or happy, a positive person, judgmental, or a potential friend or client.
It’s all information discovered to build the conversation or end it.
Small talk should be a big part of the conversation. Practice this and it will propel your conversation skills to another level. If you want to improve conversation skills, you’ll need to practice small talk.
Here are examples and ideas AND one method you can use for small talk:
“Good morning! I’m Sasha since I see you every day here at the office I wanted to introduce myself. Tell me what department do you work in?”
“Hey! What do you think of the weather today? It’s absolutely a beach day.”
“What did you think of the game last night? Great game, huh?”
“Hey, Tyler, what are things like over at the customer service department today?”
“Hey! I’m looking forward to drinks after work today. I hear Sasha will be coming with us too!”
You can small talk about a few universal topics such as the weather, current news, sports, and entertainment.
Use safe small talk topics, but not everyone follows sports, or entertainment news, so you can, try to match people’s interests. You can do this by listening in the moment or from past conversations, especially if you’ve heard them talking about a current event or weekend adventure. Or bring up a topic from a news story or an article you read that day.
Lastly, one method to keep in mind to improve conversation skills is the TAT method
One strategy to improve conversation skills and small talking with people is to use the TAT method. Talk About Them.
This is an easy way to remember that people like talking about themselves. Talking about them means, explore who the person you’re talking to.
Who are they, what do they do, why are they there.
The questions below are examples using the TAT method to extend a conversation and taking it to a deeper level.
- What are some personal projects you’re working on outside of your job?
- What do you like about tonight’s networking event?
- What was the highlight of your week?
- What are you looking forward to this weekend?
- Tell me about the work you do?
These questions will ultimately improve and build on the conversation. These are open-ended questions which spark longer and deeper discussions and will extend the conversation significantly.
To become a great communicator, make friends, and to move forward in your career, it’s very important to learn how to improve conversation skills.
This is obvious but it’s a lot harder to put into practice, and a lot of the communication we do daily starts with having a simple conversation. Practicing daily.
Creating a conversation, communicating your feelings, and making it last without any awkward moments takes practice. You can do it!