How to Start a Conversation, Part 3: What to Talk About?

"Geez..wish I knew what to talk about."

This is where you start to sweat.

You’ve smiled. Said hello. Responded with, “I’m fine. How are you?”

Now what?

That eternal question right? What do I talk about? Because if you don’t come up with something… *crickets*

Awkward!

Fortunately, most times you can start a conversation by remembering just two topics. Oh. And there’s one you probably want to avoid, at least at first.


Two topics to keep in mind:

  • The situation you both share
  • The other person

Let’s go through both in more detail and then we’ll talk logistics.
 

What’s Going On?

Discover conversation skills that make you a people magnetHow to start a conversation? Good question and using your shared situation with another person is one of the best answers.

I mean, it’s common sense, but if there’s something in your environment you can both relate to, that’s a perfect starting point.

Look around for anything worth pointing out or consider the occasion for being where you are.

This can be obvious like an interest group you’re in, say like a running group. Since you’re both there, you obviously share an interest in running. So talk running:

You: “Hey. So, what do you think about the route today? Lots of hills, huh?”

Other Person: “Yeah, there are. I need to build my leg strength though, so I’m looking forward to it.”

It can also be about something that just happened. Say you’re waiting in line at a coffee shop and someone orders an Orange Mocha Frappachino. This is an opportunity to turn to the person next to you:

“An Orange Mocha Frappachino? That sounds crazy! Have you ever tried that? No? Y’know, I actually wouldn’t mind trying something new today. What’s a good one you always get?”

Cold, Isn’t It?

In fact, the ultimate situational opener is the uber-cliché of conversation – the weather. That’s because everyone can relate to the weather; it’s something we all experience and have an emotional attachment to.

This is the basis of starting a conversation about the situation. It makes sense to talk to about something both of you can immediately relate to.
 

Start a Conversation Using the Hottest Topic of the Last 3,000 Years

People have always been more interested in themselves than just about anything else. Why not use this to your advantage?

Look for something about the person you can ask about or comment on.

For example, maybe a guy has a nice watch. Say you like it. Ask where he got it or what kind is it.

Perhaps you hear a woman talking with a strong accent. Mention you love her accent and just have to know where she’s from.

What are they doing, talking about, reading, etc. If you’re positive and friendly in your approach, people are often more inclined to talk about themselves than other random topics.
 

So How Do You Get Started?

Ok so you’ve got your topic, but how to bring it up? Well, you can start in one of two ways:

Of the two, asking a question is usually easier when starting work on your social ability. That’s because it requires the other person to respond.

For example, if you say, “I love that watch, where did you get it?” That requires more response than the opinion statement of, “I love that watch.” In the second statement, the guy might just say thanks. In the first, he’s more likely to respond with a thanks plus a description of where he got it.

Through questions, statements & listening you get to know each other. That's how friendships & social circles begin.

Statements are very powerful too though. In fact, normal conversation is a mix of both statements and questions.

I recommend you experiment with both. The goal is to keep the conversation going by enticing the other person to give you more information to work with.
 

What NOT to Talk About

We all want others to accept us, but starting a conversation about yourself is usually not best. If the person doesn’t know you yet, he probably won’t have an interest in your life.

On the other hand, you DO want to talk about yourself once you’ve been chatting a bit. This is called Self-Disclosure and it’s vital to connecting with people. It’s an important part of how to be friendly.

Talking about yourself works much better as a conversation starter with someone you already know, like family members. They’re invested in the relationship and will be interested in what’s going on with you.
 

Take Action

Pick a social setting you’ll be going to soon, even a family event, and decide to practice the three parts to start a conversation. First get attention, then root the conversation, then talk about the situation or them.

Is this the only way to start a conversation?

No.

But this simple process will work in many social situations. And if you’re usually at a loss for how to start a conversation, it’s a great way to begin your journey to better social skills.

What do you think?

Any past examples where you successfully started a conversation with a stranger, even if it was accidental? If so, what did you do? Write it in the comments section below.
 

NEXT in the Conversation Skills Minicourse: How to Keep a Conversation Going

PREVIOUS in the Conversation Skills Minicourse: Start a Conversation Part 2

Go back to the Conversation Skills 101 Mini-Course.

 

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Comments

  1. After all my years on this planet, I’ve never thought about this idea – talk about something you share with the other person. What a simple genius idea. Thank you, Dean!

    • Dean J says:

      Thanks and hope it helps! Plus, what many people don’t realize is that by starting with the frivolous stuff – the small talk – that’s how you get to finding out what you share with others. Good luck at the breakfast! Enjoy the frittata ;0)

  2. Marcus says:

    Good stuff Dean, questions & statements are both really powerful ways to strike up a conversation – for me personally, I think it’s a combination of developing confidence and improving your knowledge around shared interests with the people you’re conversing with. It’s also fundamental to work on your active listening as a means to hold interesting conversations.

    • Dean J says:

      Marcus,

      Hey yes I definitely agree. My fundamental philosophy is that people raise their self-esteem AND their self-knowledge so they can confidently and easily get to know others and let others know them. Your hint about active listening is spot on too…one of the foundations of good conversation!

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