Conversation Starters—Do's and Don’ts

March 24, 2021


Pre-pandemic, it was common to feel “on the spot” at a face-to-face event at which we knew no one. The idea of starting a conversation with a stranger makes most of us panic—and perhaps scroll through on our phones to appear busy. When we’re once again interacting freely, conversation starters will help us strike up meaningful dialogs.

Here are some do’s and don’ts for conversation starters that can help you draw another person out while putting you both at ease—at work or in social situations.


  • Ask an open-ended question. For example:

(1) “Your badge says you’re with ABC & Co. I’d love to hear more about it.”
(2) “How do you know so-and-so?” This conversation starter works virtually anywhere: conferences, business meetings, parties, networking events.
(3) “I hear you’re working on the new product launch. What’s been your experience so far?”

  • Also, make eye contact, lean in, and nod. A smile creates a feeling of warmth and connection, while leaning in and nodding signals interest and engagement.
  • Talk about something that interests you: A project, hobby, vacation, TV show, sports, food, or a non-political news event. It’s likely the other person will have something to contribute on one of these topics.
  • Listen closely.This makes others feel heard and appreciated. What’s more, you may find things in common to discuss or want to learn more about. 
  • Use your new acquaintance’s name. Hearing our name makes most of us feel important and respected. “Rosa, you make a great point!”
  • Ask for an opinion. “What do you like best about your company/ job/ current project?” Your conversational partner will feel flattered.
  • Offer assistance. “Do you need help on your presentation? I’ve got free time.” “Can I hold your plate while you get coffee?” Most people will be pleased, and conversation will flow naturally.


  • Ask questions that elicit one-word answers. “How are you?” (“Fine.”) “How’s it going?” (“Fine.”)
  • Interrupt people. Unless you’re confused and need a clarification, this is disrespectful.
  • Tell a joke. It could fall flat, or the other person might find it offensive.
  • Talk about yourself ad infinitum. By default, a conversation involves two people, not one—totally self-involved—individual.

  • Complain about any person or organization. For all you know, the person you’ve approached works for that organization or with that person.
  • Cross your arms and legs. This signals defensiveness or disinterest.
  • Get upset if a conversation falls flat. The other person may be dealing with a pressing issue. Or there may be no chemistry between you. It happens. Find another person to talk to.

Use these conversation starters to lower your stress and have great interactions with some fascinating people!

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