This post was most recently updated on May 1st, 2018
Possessing the art of having great conversations is a skill that can take you a long way in your personal and professional life.
Being able to spark a conversation with a complete stranger in social and professional situations, could be a born trait for some, but it is not something that you can’t learn on your own.
Like any other skill that you can acquire, having the confidence and the ability to talk to almost anyone, can be easily achieved with practice. And of course, a little of planning ahead.
- Have you ever felt uncomfortable when trying to talk to someone?
- Or a situation where you might have gone blank while trying too hard to think about something to talk about?
- How about when you encounter a potential client, and you didn’t know how to break the ice?
- And when you went to that networking event last year, you struggled with becoming part of mini group conversations?
Being in such situations really made me feel awkward. Until I found a fix.
Best Topics for Conversation Are Relevant to Audiences’ Interests’
You see, no one is perfect. That’s what I have learnt from life. While growing up, I was unexposed and in a bubble. I was raised in an environment where getting professional guidance of any kind was not available.
But I am very content and happy with how my life turned out to be. I became more inquisitive out of life. And learnt my way through it.
So yes. I have felt all kinds of discomfort in social situations. And if I were to tell you that I don’t face it anymore, I would be lying. Every social situation brings a different challenge.
You just need to learn the art of how to handle such social situations and become comfortable with the discomfort. That’s because once you do, you won’t be trying too hard to prove a point. Not to yourself. Not to anyone. And that feeling of comfort within your own skin, breeds the confidence to conquer the art of starting conversations with people you have never met before.
In my opinion, knowing a bit about your intended social group helps.
I would like to quote a few examples from my own life to illustrate how I used the knowledge of my intended audiences’ interest to prepare myself for potential conversations.
Great Entertainment Topics for Conversation with New Office Colleagues
There was a time, from the age of 15 to 25, where I never watched TV (or even movies for that matter). I was far away from any sort of entertainment consumption.
This is surprising to some people, but its true. I kept myself occupied in doing things that I enjoyed, or learnt something from. And being in social situations after work with my new office colleagues was super awkward for me.
Why? Because they talked about TV shows and movies. And guess what? I had NOTHING to contribute to those conversations. After a few months of feeling awkward, and not being able to connect with any of my colleagues, I decided to change that.
I started binge watching TV Shows that they talked about, and all the latest movies that came out. Even the popular ones that I had missed out on over the years.
In no time, I had enough information, knowledge and conversation topics about the entertainment genre, that I become an influential part of my after work office meet ups. I was more visible. People who didn’t know more, knew me personally. And even people who I didn’t know, knew me on a first name basis.
What just happened here?
I prepared myself to be suited to the kind of conversations that my intended audience was interested in.
Geographic and Behavioural Topics for Conversation with New People
Another example that I would like to tell you about, is when I first moved to Canada. A completely new country for me. A different culture. Contrasting social situations.
I was flying all the way from South Asia and the Middle East to North America. And that’s when a mentor of mine, gave me a great advice.
A few months before I was about to make the move, he asked me to get accustomed to how Canadians behave. What they liked and disliked. The conversations they like to have in social situations. The lifestyle they aspire to. What do they prefer to do in their personal time.
I did exactly what he told me to do. And guess how my move went? Seamless.
Be Smart About Choosing Topics for Conversations
What if I had used the entertainment genre knowledge in a strictly business networking event? It might not have gotten me anywhere. In fact, I might have put myself in an even more awkward situation.
Where people would have thought, What’s wrong with that guy, eh? I’m not here to talk about when the next Spiderman movie comes out!
You get the point. Be smart in choosing topics for conversations with people depending on the social environment.
As I said earlier, knowing the profile of your audience can be very helpful to decide on conversation topics that you can prepare for.
Best Topics for Conversations When You’re Not Prepared
There are times when you are not prepared to talk to anyone in a social situation. Assuming you’re not a scientist, what if you get an opportunity to speak to a NASA scientist by sheer coincidence, or luck , what would you do then?
Don’t play that awkward silence card again. You’re so much better than that. How to not get uncomfortable in this scenario is what we’ll try to address for you. Here is a list of some great (or best) topics for conversation that you can resort to.
Try to memorize these conversation starters, and put them in your back pocket. You never know when panic could strike, and you’d need to play these cards to your rescue.
1. Start Off With What Do You Do?
This is one of the easiest social pick-up lines you can use to break the ice in a networking event. Regardless of anyone’s age, gender or relationship with you, you can always sneak in a conversation with this one:
- So, how’s it going? What do you do for a living?
This will be one of the easiest topics for conversation that you can use to speak to anyone; especially someone you don’t know. Why this works is because it is appropriate, it genuinely shows regard for the person you are trying to speak to, and does not make them cringe or feel uncomfortable
Though some people might consider it a “boring” way to start a conversation, but it works. Also, it will help you constructively build up on the response you get.
2. Politics Vs Sports
Perhaps if you are talking to someone who is slightly older (the Gen-X, the or Baby Boomers), politics might be a topic of conversation that interests them. I am not someone who is into even understanding politics, so I will take a pass on this one. But it could definitely be a card that you can play with people who take a keen interest, and many people do, in politics.
Sports is another great topic for conversation for people (or a nation), who are passionate about sports. Sports is a good topic for discussion especially, when it comes to the youth. However, that’s not necessarily true. An example of sports as an amazing topic to spark conversations can be illustrated by the following affinities across different regions:
- Football (or Soccer as they call it in the US) is LOVED by Europeans and Middle Easterns
- Cricket has a massive following in South Asia and Australia
- American Football is very popular amongst Americans
- Canadians are passionate about Ice-Hockey and Baseball
Another great example that I can think of right now, is of the elite, or the business audience, bonding over Golf. It is a common saying that many multi-million dollar business deals are done on golf courses.
3. Current Affairs
Another great area that you can be prepared with is current affairs. Can be a hot favourite topic for many people who are looking to discuss their views and opinions with other like-minded individuals.
Social media has made it easy for a lot of us to stay updated and aware of what is trending or is popular on a daily basis. Current issues offer great topics to start conversations because the information lies within the public domain. Also, most times the news is not technical. This makes current affairs an easy option for you to bait your target into conversing with you.
Did you see Mark Zuckerberg’s testimony on TV the other day?
4. Gender-Based Topics
When it comes to gender, you need to be careful. Talking about gender specific topics (or topics that you consider relevant to specific genders) is a sensitive area. In general, the rule of thumb that we’ve historically believed to be is that topics such as cars, sports, and gym are related to men.
However fashion, clothing, style and relationships are attributed to women.
Times have changed, and it is a different world now. Don’t take these generalizations into consideration, and make sure that you don’t judge people by the topics they are interested in.
The best way to approach specific topics is by asking politely. Something like the below would be good examples:
- What are your views about a specific fashion trend?
- Do you have any interest in cars?
- What interests you the most outside of work?
If you are a foodie, and you meet another foodie. What else do you want to talk about? Food can be one of the best topics for discussion or to spark a conversation with a complete stranger.
In a new cultural environment, you might ask and offer someone to try a cuisine that you were amazed by. You can give your opinions about specific food or restaurants as well as take ideas from others as well.
Talking about food might lead you to befriending the other person, and you might have a network contact for life. Who knows you might even become good friends.
6. From One Topic To Another
Another way to spark good topics for conversations that are meaningful. You can do this by asking someone questions about how they tackle day to day challenges in their jobs.
People LOVE to talk about themselves, and this could be a great opportunity for you to have a solid conversation. Use this tactic to your advantage.
The Best Topics for Conversations Are Rooted in Good Planning and Preparation
There are tons of other ideas on how you can come up with topics to spark conversations with complete strangers or people you don’t know.
Use the tactics to spark conversation topics that we have listed in this post, as a structure to prepare and guide yourself to become better at communicating with people.