- The right conversation starters can open the doors for dynamic conversations.
- Personal (although not too personal!), open-ended questions allow each of your guests to shine.
- Simple, boring, and unimaginative questions leave little room for meaningful conversation.
We’ve all endured it: the dreaded small talk as forks scrape across empty plates, the half-hearted attempts at lackluster conversation, the awkward pauses. You inquire about the local forecast while your mind drifts to mouthwatering leftovers waiting in the fridge or your Sunday brunch plans with friends.
Nobody likes asking—or answering—vague or insincere questions. But when it comes to facilitating your own gathering, how can you make sure there are opportunities for authentic human interaction and deep, meaningful connections amongst your guests?
It all starts with introducing conversation starters that open the doors for dynamic conversations. From the best of the best to the truly terrible, we’ve broken down conversation starters your guests should take into account while they meet one another for the first time. Make your next networking event the best one yet.
Good, Better, So Glad You Asked!
We all know what it’s like to walk through the doors of an event with high expectations, only to discover the mood is just as stale as the picked-over buffet. As the Scientific American puts it, everyone likes to talk about themselves. As you foster authentic conversations amongst your guests, remember that personal (although not too personal!),, open-ended questions allow each of your guests to shine.
Good: “What’s your idea of a perfect weekend?”
This question is simple and to the point. It also avoids the trap we all fall into when we ask how someone spent their weekend the following Monday morning. It’s all too easy to reply with a curt “not much” or “just laid around,” which doesn’t give you a chance to learn more about a person.
By asking about a person’s ideal weekend, you’re already starting the conversation off on a positive note. You’re likely to learn more about a person’s hobbies, favorite shows or movies, daily routines, and so on. You may even learn about family life or a significant other, helping you to get to know someone on a deeper level without prying for personal information they may not want to divulge the first time you meet.
Better: “Which movie, TV show, or band can you not stop talking about?”
It’s easy to get the ball rolling when everyone in the conversation can share something they’re passionate about. Whether it’s music, TV shows, movies, or other areas of media and pop culture, we can learn a great deal about the people we meet based on their artistic interests. It’s also a great way to break the ice among quieter members of the group who may not be the first to speak up, but will gladly jump in to share their favorite artist. Follow up with questions such as: “Have you seen them perform live? If so, where?” or, “Who introduced you to that TV show?” You’ll learn more about where people come from, who they enjoy spending time with, and what makes them tick.
So Glad You Asked!: “What would you do for work if money didn’t matter?”
What would we do if we weren’t tied down by our financial responsibilities? It’s another way to ask about dream jobs, really. As adults, we are sometimes reluctant to respond if asked directly.
The truth is, we are never too old to let our imaginations wander. As a networking strategy, this question gives insight into a person’s professional history, personal interests, and life goals. It also gives people a chance to share personal goals in place of professional ones, if they so choose.
Oof, Absolutely Not, Where’s the Nearest Exit?
On the flip side, we know all too well what a networking fail feels like—the type of fail that has you plotting an exit strategy from the start. As an event host, you’re always looking for new ways to engage your guests and build stronger connections. Your guests should avoid the following tired conversation starters at all costs.
Oof: “How was your weekend?”
It’s simple, boring, and unimaginative. It doesn’t require much effort on the asker's part, but also doesn’t require much from the responder either. If the person you’re talking to just went on an amazing family vacation or cooked a fabulous three-course dinner: Great! You have lots to talk about. But what about people who are fairly reserved or simply don’t have any grandiose adventures to relay from the weekend prior? Steer clear of this question, as it’s overdone and will quickly run your conversation dry.
Absolutely Not: “Why’d you leave your last job?”
In an interview, sure. However, in a relaxed professional setting, this could quickly turn the other person off. Sometimes the attendee you’re talking to may have left a former job for an exciting new opportunity they’re happy to discuss. This isn’t always the case, though. By asking this question, you’re getting too personal too quickly, and may even ruffle some feathers. Keep the conversation light and positive with the ultimate goal of forming new bonds—and not burning bridges.
Where’s the Nearest Exit?: “So, who’d you vote for in the last election?”
You may just start a war with this one. It’s often said that politics and religion should be off-limits in the office. After all, discovering someone’s political leanings or religious affiliations could drastically impact your professional relationship and, ultimately, your ability to work collaboratively. Keep conversation lighthearted and focus your questions on getting to know the other person on a deeper level, rich for cultivating close professional relationships.
Networking gets a bad rap for being stuffy, corny, and all-around ineffective. However, networking is still key in conducting business, so it’s essential to be able to start a conversation. Using great conversation starters gives attendees an edge, both in the conversations themselves and in the potential future benefits. Check out Mixtroz to jumpstart conversations of any size and build meaningful connections.