Guest Author - Elsa Neal
How many times have you been stuck making small talk with a stranger at a function, wishing that he would ask the "right" question so that:
a) you can legitimately mention that you're an artist or writer rather than confessing to your day job?
b) You can move the conversation away from mundane subjects like the weather, or your day job?
c) The stranger stops boring you about his day job?
Small talk can be so limiting, and I always wonder how much interesting information we're missing about each other when we toe the same line as everyone else in order to keep conversations safe and neutral.
Here are some questions and topics to introduce more interesting conversation openings. Approach the conversation from the angle of trying to find something that fascinates you about the other person.
Conversation centres around "What do you do?", or you're a stranger in a group of colleagues "talking shop"
- What do you like to do for fun or to relax?
- What are your hobbies?
- Do you have a dream job that's different to this job? Or, if you could do any type of job at all, what would it be?
- Is there a part of your job that you most enjoy doing?
- What do you most enjoy about your job?
- Why did you choose to go into this field?
Conversation centres around the weather
- What is your favourite season? Or your favourite type of weather?
- Have you ever experienced very cold or very hot weather, or a freak storm? What was it like?
- If you're interested in climate change, raise the topic - but try to keep your comments as positive as possible. Everyone else complains about the weather and the damage we're doing - ask instead, perhaps, about the positive things they're trying to do to make a difference.
Conversation centres around sport
- What is the most unusual sport you've ever played or watched?
- Have you ever been to a sporting event in another country? Was the atmosphere different?
Conversation centres around the other person's children
- What are your hopes for your child's future?
- What do you think your child will grow up to be?
- What did you want to be when you were his age?
Also ask yourself what question you'd most like this person to ask you - and lead with that question when there's a lull in the conversation.
Answers to questions like these can reveal a lot about the person you're talking to, and as you speak to more and more people using questions they're not expecting and encouraging them to give you more than the usual "sound bite response", you'll develop a deeper understanding of people more quickly.
You'll also become more skilled at probing for the interesting bits and making your experience at functions more worthwhile. With a little bit of practice, you'll be able to find an unusual angle to any normally mundane question.
Let's make each other more interesting!
Do you battle to hold interesting conversations? If you would like to improve your skills and confidence, try these books:
The Complete Book of Questions : 1001 Conversation Starters for Any Occasion by Garry Poole
The Fine Art of Small Talk : How to Start a Conversation, Keep it Going, Build Networking Skills - and Leave a Positive Impression! by Debra Fine