6 foolproof ways to start a conversation with anyone

SkyeTeam Leadership Development

I’ll let you into a secret. I am terrified of small talk. I know. Hard to believe.

Put me on the stage at a conference, and I can deliver a compelling keynote to hundreds of people that has everyone engaged and involved.

Ask me to work with your leadership team, and I can develop and facilitate a program that results in lasting change.

Put me in a one-to-one situation, ask me to have a social conversation, and on the inside my stomach is doing back-flips. My mind is racing – “What do I say?” “Will I sound foolish?” “But I don’t follow sports! I’ve nothing interesting to share.”

Sound familiar?

Ironic given that I firmly believe that success, whether it’s corporate success, team success and especially individual success, is all down to the quality of the relationships we cultivate throughout our career. Relationships, and especially Ally Relationships are built one conversation at a time.

At some point, every relationship starts with a ‘stranger’. Someone we don’t know, or don’t know well. Small-talk is crucial in order to move any relationship from what I describe as ‘first contact’ to being an Ally, from purely a transaction and ‘business focused’ interaction to one that is transformational.

Here are six foolproof ways to start a conversation with a stranger, whether it’s a conference, at the airport, or maybe even at the next company event:

  1. Say “Hello” I know, it sounds obvious, but in reality we spend far too much time worrying about what comes after the “hello” that we forget to say it. How about taking a deep breath and just start with “Hello, my name is…” Let the rest of the conversation take its course from there!
  2. What brought you here? If it’s a company event, this may not be the best opening line. But at a conference it can be a great way to find out why someone chose to come to the event and what he or she hopes to learn.
  3. Mention the Weather I may live in Colorado (where the sun shines 300+ days a year), but growing up in England (where it is sunny and DOESN’T rain all the time), this is one habit that will never leave me. If in doubt, the weather is an easy and safe conversational starter.
  4. Share something Whether it’s how much you enjoyed the opening keynote speaker or how much you are looking forward to the afternoon session, share your experience of the event you are at.
  5. Ask for help Ask for their suggestion on which breakout session to attend. Ask for a recommendation for a restaurant. Ask about travel time back to the airport. Even if it’s all booked, even if you have already decided, be curious, listen and thank them for their suggestions. And lo! your conversation is underway!
  6. Do You Know Anyone Else Here? There are many variations of this question that are useful. If they answer “no,” then you have the opportunity to offer to have coffee/lunch/attend the social event with them. Very few of us like the feeling of being the only person who doesn’t know anyone else! If they answer “yes,” then follow up with “Who do you think I should meet?” Then, ask them to make the introduction.

Relationships are built one conversation at a time. You can’t afford to be a wall flower. Take a deep breath; your success depends on your ability to start the conversation.

*************

Breaking News!

Are you looking for more professional relationship tools and resources? Want to develop Ally relationships but not sure how?

Then join our Cultivate@Work Community! The Cultivate@Work Field Guide is packed full of articles, activities, videos and podcasts to support you in cultivating your winning relationships.

You can also order your copy of Cultivate. The Power of Winning Relationships from all booksellers. It is available in hard copy and digital formats.