Conversation Starters: A Practically Simple Guide

Learning to be comfortable starting conversations with strangers can increase your social power. Specifically if you can start conversations with strangers, keep them going, and get useful information from them, you can do it with anyone. Try these conversations starters that are flexible enough to be useful in any situation.

What Is Your Conversation Goal?

Conversations can have many goals. You could be trying to pass the time, learn from a person, work on a skill like persuasion, or just make a new friend. We suggest starting conversations from the perspective of learning something new from the person. This makes conversations flow easily. You can learn something new from anyone if you look hard enough.

Try looking for 3 things in any conversation.

First look for what this person has chosen to spend their life doing. This step is where you will learn something new about the world. Worst case scenario you can simply see the interaction as a chance to increase your understanding of what drives people. Listening and repeating back to the person is key in this step as it elicits more information. See the list below for examples of how to start conversations with strangers. How do you like to spend your free time?

Second look for what the person wants and fears. This will help you persuade them.

Finally look for something you can follow up with them about next time you see them. If you have a topic or interest the person likes to talk about, you can use it to easily start a conversation the next time you talk to them. “Hey [name], how is X going?” This is a step you should do in any conversation.

How To Start A Conversation And Keep It Going

First use the conversation starters below. We suggest starting with the first bullet point as it is very effective in almost any situation. Try sharing the goal of the conversation with them. When the conversation lulls, try asking another conversation starter.

Next, see this article on how to build rapport with the person so they feel comfortable opening up to you. Rapport can make it easier to continue a conversation. Two tactics that work well are listening to what they are saying and repeating it back. You can also try the self disclosure tactic if you are having a tough time getting them talking. Simply answer your own question and then re ask it to them again. Another one to try is simply complimenting the person.

Finally, start asking questions to keep the conversation going and gain information. Questions mixed with self disclosure is the key to long and fruitful conversations.

Example Conversation Starters For Strangers

Remember if the person seems hesitant to answer the question, simply answer it for yourself so they feel more comfortable sharing. CHOOSE ONE conversation starter and practice using it until you are really comfortable and used to the types of answers you get from it. We recommend either asking for updates on current events, or asking people’s opinions on current events. Note, asking for people’s opinions is preferred since that approach doesn’t immediately put you into the subservient position where the other person is teaching you.

  • I don’t read the news much, anything interesting happening? I don’t read the news much, is the world still burning?
  • What is your opinion on X? (Where X is a current event.)
  • I’m looking for a new hobby to try, what do you like to do when you aren’t at work?
  • What brought you to this area?
  • How do you spend your free time?
  • Nice x, where did you get it? I really like x too, when did you first find out about it?
  • I’m looking for a new show to binge watch, any recommendations?
  • I don’t think I’ve met you yet, how do you know the host?
  • I’m craving Greek food, any good recommendations?
  • I’m about due for a vacation from my terrible job, any good spots?
  • I don’t think I’ve met you yet, what brought you here?
  • I just heard about a tornado coming (any intense event), do you know anything about that?
  • I have a bunch of time on my hands coming up this week end, any good books I should check out?
  • I finally finished X and I’m looking for something new, what do you do in your free time?
  • Find someone you know and ask for an introduction to another person they are familiar with at the party. Before they introduce you, ask your friend if you share anything in common. Then say “So I heard we both like X.”

Example Questions To Keep A Conversation Going With A Stranger

The key to keeping a conversation going is to go back and forth between 2 things. Self disclosure and open ended questions.

Self disclosure is when you share something about yourself. This works particularly well if you do it before asking a question. For example, notice how the questions listed about self disclose before asking a question. This makes people comfortable. Self disclosure can also mean sharing relevant stories like a funny thing that happened to you, what you did earlier that day, or something you learned recently.

Self disclosure works well if you regularly keep up with popular topics of conversation and then use those to start conversations. For example, many people like sports. You might see in your email a weekly sports update that has an article about a fight that is happening that weekend. Then you’d ask the person what they thought would happen in the fight.

There was a book written Called Cultural Literacy that theorized that there is a list of things everyone needs to know to have a conversation with people in our society. It is a bit outdated, but there is some value still.

The second thing is open ended questions. One reason people struggle with continuing conversations is they don’t ask enough open ended questions.

  • What do you like/dislike most about X?
  • What led you to doing X?
  • Why did you stick with X?
  • What was X like?
  • What other things do you like to do/read/eat/visit?
  • What do you think will happen with X?

Example Conversation Patterns

  1. I don’t keep up with the news much, what’s been happening? (person shares current events) Oh, when I lived in X, Y happened to me. It was terrifying. What do you think will happen with X?
  2. I haven’t met you yet, what brought you here? (person shares) Interesting, I’m from X too, have you ever visited Y? What do you think about it?

If you are having a hard time keeping or getting people’s attention, see this article for practical solutions.

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