Ice Breakers and Beyond


I walked into a networking event where nothing was happening. 

Everyone was huddled in little groups, talking in low voices. I walked up to the nearest stranger, stuck out my hand and said, "Hi, I'm Caelan. What's your story?"

Suddenly, we were talking about this guy's favorite subject: himself.

I kept the conversation going by asking him leading questions, and spent so much time listening to him, that he was eager to find out who his new friend was.

We would have talked all night, but I had to find someone else who wasn’t talking to many people, and break the ice with my favorite, all-purpose conversation starter: “What’s your story?" 

How to talk to anyone about their favorite subject

I always smile when a salesperson says to me, “So, Caelan, where are you from...originally?"

The geography of my childhood almost never has to do with the purchase at hand. (I’m not counting my limited-edition DC Superman figurines, of course.) When a conversation turns into where I’m from...originally, I recognize and appreciate that the salesperson is doing two things:

• Trying to get to know me, by finding out what kind of person I am, and

• Trying to get me to open up, by revealing some facts about myself that most people don’t know.

Most people don’t know where you are from...originally, because most people don’t care.

When someone takes an interest in your origin, you find yourself willing to share some of the most personal details about your life. Your childhood, your hometown, what it was like growing up there. These are not things you tell strangers.

But you will tell friends. And, most likely, anyone who asks will get closer to you.

You can get closer to other people too, just by asking them the right questions.

Questions start easy conversations with new people

The best salespeople are not great talkers; they are great listeners.

Their ability to ask the right questions is what sets them apart from their competition, not their ability to recite a pitch.

Ask open-ended questions that get the other person talking about themselves, and they will open up.

Think of it like a game: anytime you are talking, you lose a point. Anytime the other person is talking, you gain a point. Keep ‘em talking with some of the questions below.

7 all-purpose conversation starters to get any conversation going

1. What’s your story? 2. Where are you from, originally? 3. How did you get into your line of work? 4. What’s going on in your industry nowadays? 5. Who did you come here to meet? 6. That’s an interesting (drink, business card, lapel pin, piece of haberdashery, etc.) Where did you get it? 7. I just found out what a Pokemon is. Do you have kids?

Starting a conversation gracefully is the hallmark of a professional communicator. People feel comfortable doing business with someone who can keep a conversation going.

When you want to start talking with new people, ask them questions about themselves. The conversation will blossom naturally, and continue toward friendship.