As a business owner, you know that networking is critical to your success. It’s how you meet potential customers, partners, and even investors.
A well-crafted conversation starter can help you break the ice and start a meaningful conversation that could lead to valuable business opportunities.
But networking can be daunting, if you’re an introvert or not used to meeting new people.
That’s where being a conversation starter comes in. Great… but how to be a conversation starter?
Well, in this brief article, we’re going to cover just that. 5 easy tips on how to be a conversation starter.
“The best way to be a conversation starter is to be interested, not interesting…”Susan Scott
The first step is to be comfortable with the idea of just connecting with people. Just shaking hands or saying ‘hi’ to ‘strangers’ so you don’t even have to think about it.
There are so many ways to initiate a dialogue including open-ended questions, compliments, observations etc. We sometimes call these ‘ice-breakers’. You’ve heard the expression.
But conversation starters are more than just a way to break the ice, right?
They also help establish common ground and shared interests, which are critical building blocks of any successful relationship, whether personal or professional.
In a business context, conversation starters can help you achieve a number of goals.
They can help you establish a rapport with colleagues or competitors, and even pitch your products. Personally, I think that to win with people, you have to show courage.
I find that when I am the first to speak or the first to ask or the first to do anything, I become the winner or the leader.
Here’s what we’ll cover
First, we’ll discuss the importance of knowing your audience and understanding their communication style.
Second, we’ll explain how staying up-to-date with current events can help you initiate conversations.
Third, we’ll cover the importance of active listening and asking open-ended questions.
Fourth, we’ll discuss how to use humour appropriately to keep the conversation flowing.
Fifth, we’ll provide guidance on how to follow up after networking events to build lasting relationships.
By the end, you’ll have the tools you’ll need to start meaningful conversation and know how to be a conversation starter with anyone you meet. Anyone!
“The key to successful communication is to connect with the other person…”Brian Tracy
1. Know your audience
One of the most important aspects of being a successful conversation starter is knowing your audience.
To effectively initiate and maintain conversations, it’s crucial to understand the interests, values, and communication style of the person you’re speaking with.
Here are some tips for getting to know your audience and learning how to be a conversation starter:
- Identify their interests and values: Ask what they’re passionate about and what motivates them. This can give you insights into the topics they’re likely to be interested in discussing.
- Pay attention to how the person communicates, including their tone, body language, and pace. Are they formal or informal? Do they speak quickly or slowly? This information can help you adjust your communication style to better match theirs.
- Use the information you’ve gathered about your audience to tailor your conversation starters to their preferences. For example, if you know they’re interested in a particular topic, use that as a starting point for your conversation.
Now let’s have a little fun. I’m going to ask you to pretend that you were recently at a networking event.
You were struggling to connect with someone but you then remembered one of the tips from this article.
So what did you do?
- You asked open-ended questions to learn their interests and communication style.
- You discovered they’re passionate about environmental sustainability and love to hike.
- You tailored your conversation starters to their preferences.
- The conversation came to life, and you both felt connected.
Excellent! You’ve made progress! Let’s keep going
“The more you know, the more valuable you become.” –Neil deGrasse Tyson
2. Keep up with current events
Staying up-to-date with current events is another key aspect of being a successful conversation starter.
By keeping informed about news and trends in your industry, you’ll be better equipped to initiate and participate in useful conversations.
Here are 3 ideas:
- Subscribe to industry publications, follow industry leaders on social media, and attend industry events. This will help you stay up-to-date on the latest news and trends, as well as provide you with valuable insights to share in conversations.
- Use current events as conversation starters: When you’re speaking with someone, use current events as a starting point for your conversation. For example, if there’s been a recent news story related to your industry, ask the other person their thoughts on it.
- Share your perspective, ask questions, and encourage the other person to do the same. This will help you build a stronger connection and establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry.
Let’s have some more fun! Let’s pretend that you were at a renewable energy conference and you managed to connect with someone new during a break.
So what did you do?
You remembered the importance of keeping up with current events. You asked the other person if they’ve heard about a recent study on the effectiveness of wind power.
- They responded with enthusiasm
- You shared your own thoughts on the study
- The conversation quickly turned to other recent developments
- You demonstrated your knowledge and engagement in the industry
- You established a strong connection with the other person who shares your interes
Well done! You’re doing well! On to the next tip!
“The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer…”Henry David Thoreau
3. Practice Active Listening
Active listening is an essential skill for anyone who wants to learn how to be a conversation starter.
By truly listening and asking open-ended questions, you build a more meaningful and engaging conversation. It’s harder than it sounds.
But here are some ideas to help!
- Avoid distractions, such as checking your phone or thinking about what you’re going to say next. Instead, focus your attention on the person you’re speaking with and actively listen to what they’re saying.
- Pay attention to their tone of voice, body language, and nonverbal cues. Check out Vanessa van Edwards book on mastering body language. I have found it helpful 🙂
- Ask open-ended questions so you encourage the other person to share more about their thoughts and experiences. Examples of open-ended questions include “What do you think about…?” and “How did you get into…?”
Now…Let’s imagine that you were recently at a social gathering and listened really well to someone.
So what did you do?
- You remembered the importance of active listening.
- You focused on being present in the moment and avoided distractions.
- You actively listened to what the other person was saying.
- You encouraged the other person to share more about their experiences.
- You nodded, asked follow-up questions and could key words back to them!
Excellent! I bet you are fun to talk to! So what about using humor?
4. Use Humor Appropriately
Using humour can be an effective way to keep the conversation flowing and create a more relaxed atmosphere. Humor shows that you are easy to talk to.
However, it’s important to use humour appropriately and be mindful of the other person’s sensitivities. Here are some tips on how to be a conversation starter using ‘safe’ humour:
- Share a witty comment to make the person feel more at ease only if it feels right. President Johnson famously carried a note reminding himself to be ‘comfortable’ like an old shoe.
- Keep your language light-hearted and relatable, and avoid making jokes that could be offensive or controversial. That’s not always easy but it’s really important these days!
- Making light of your own shortcomings or experiences can demonstrate that you’re approachable and open. However, be careful not to overdo it, as excessive self-deprecation can appear insincere or self-pitying.
Now let’s imagine that you found yourself struggling to make small talk with a new colleague at a company gathering. But you then relaxed and decided to have some fun.
So what did you do?
- You noticed that they seemed a bit tense, so you made a lighthearted comment
- You asked them how their day was going and if it was as hectic as yours :o)
- You continued the conversation with light humor relevant to their story
- You found a kindred spirit who sees things a little bit like you
- You avoided any controversial or offensive topics
You’re making this look easy! Let’s keep the conversation going!
“Communication is the real work of leadership…”Nitin Nohria
5. Keep the Conversation Going
It’s great to meet new people and initiate conversations, right?
However, the real value of these events lies in what happens after the initial conversation.
You don’t have to follow up with everyone. Some people may not be valuable connections. But what about the conversations that could lead to something positive?
To build strong relationships and create valuable business opportunities, it’s important to think about your next steps.
Here are some tips for keeping the conversation going afterwards (only if you want to). I call these the three ‘S’s’. These are Send, Share, Stay.
- Send a personalized message to each person you meet. This could be an email, a LinkedIn message, or a handwritten note.
- Share relevant articles or resources that they might find useful, or invite them to attend industry events with you. By offering value, you’ll keep the conversation going.
- Stay consistent in your follow-up and show that you’re committed to building a relationship. Be patient, as it may take time to see the results of your efforts.
Ok! let’s pretend that you were recently seated next to someone on a long-haul flight and decided that you wanted to stay in touch! There could be an opportunity here!
So what did you do?
You remembered the importance of being a conversation starter. That meant going first. Someone has to start a conversation, so why not you?
- You made a mental note of the things that stood out
- You asked for their business contact details
- You asked for permission to connect on LinkedIn
- You followed up with a personalized message,
- You shared an interesting article you found
- You introduced them to a mutual contact
That wasn’t too bad, was it? You’re mastering the art of being a conversation starter!
We’re nearly there!
In conclusion, being a conversation starter is a skill that can be learned. It takes practice and effort, but the benefits of mastering this skill can be immense.
You now have 5 ideas to help you become a better conversation starter, including asking open-ended questions, staying up-to-date on current events, using humor appropriately, practicing active listening, and following up after networking events.
“The art of conversation lies in the ability to start one.” –Anonymous
Make a conscious effort to engage in conversations and seek out new opportunities to meet people. In elevators, in offices, in everyday situations.
Be confident in yourself and your abilities, and don’t be afraid to initiate conversations with new people. People at the check out. Standing in a line. At the coffee counter.
I practice this every day so that it becomes second-nature. I am reminded that as a business owner, my success is linked to my ability to connect with people. True for you?
By being a conversation starter and creating valuable conversations, you can convert conversations to connections and then productive relationships. Excellent
Frequently Asked Questions
1 What if I’m naturally shy and struggle with starting conversations?
Starting conversations can be challenging for anyone, especially those who are naturally shy. However, with practice and the tips provided in this article, you can become more confident in starting conversations.
2 How do I know if I’m being too pushy in a conversation?
Pay attention to the other person’s body language and verbal cues. If they seem uncomfortable or disengaged, it may be a sign that you’re being too pushy. Be mindful of their responses and adjust your approach accordingly.
3 What if I can’t find common ground with the person I’m speaking to?
It’s not always possible to find common ground with every person you speak to. In this case, try to focus on listening to their perspective and asking open-ended questions to encourage conversation.
4 How do I follow up with someone I’ve met at a networking event?
Send a personalized message within a few days of the event, thanking them for their time and referencing something you discussed during your conversation. Keep the conversation going by asking a follow-up question or suggesting a future meeting.
5 What if I say something awkward or offensive during a conversation?
If you say something that offends someone, apologize sincerely and make an effort to learn from the situation. Don’t be too hard on yourself – everyone makes mistakes. Use the experience as an opportunity to reflect on your communication style. Relax!
6 How do I approach someone who seems unapproachable or uninterested in talking?
Approaching someone who seems unapproachable or uninterested in talking can be intimidating, but it’s worth a try. Smile, make eye contact, and say hello. Ask a simple question to get the conversation started, and be respectful if they don’t want to talk. Remember that it’s not about you – they may be preoccupied or having a bad day.
7 What if I run out of things to say during a conversation?
Running out of things to say can be awkward, but it happens to everyone. Ask open-ended questions to keep the conversation going, or share something interesting or funny that happened to you recently. Remember that silence can be okay too – it gives both parties a chance to reflect and collect their thoughts.
8 How can I make sure I’m not dominating the conversation?
It’s important to be aware of your conversational style and make sure you’re not dominating the conversation. Be aware of their body language and verbal cues, and adjust your approach accordingly. If you find yourself dominating the conversation, take a step back and give the other person a chance to speak.
9 What if I get nervous or anxious during a conversation?
It’s natural to feel nervous or anxious during a conversation, especially with someone new. Take deep breaths and focus on being present in the moment. Remember that the other person is likely feeling the same way, and that it’s okay to be vulnerable. Try to shift your focus to the other person and be curious about their perspective.
Start the next conversation. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Thanks for reading.