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How To Start And Maintain A Great Conversation

Written by: John Christie, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.


Have you ever found yourself at a business networking event with people you don’t know and struggled to start a conversation? You’re not alone. For some, it can be a frightening, sometimes debilitating, experience. Even those who consider themselves great conversationalists can occasionally find themselves without anything to say.

But fear not…there are some time-tested and practiced techniques you can use to climb out of any conversational hole you may find yourself in, and they’re all straightforward, simple ways to start a great conversation. Remember, your job is to get the other person talking, so start with these open-ended questions:

1. What’s your story?

Sure, this question may shock the person you’re talking to, but it’s an excellent way to open a conversation. What’s more, you’ve given your new acquaintance the access to speak from their heart and share what’s important to them, what their goals look like, and their journey to this time and place.

2. What makes you smile when you get up in the morning?

This is a close cousin to “what motivates you?” (a staple of the networking scene) but makes it way more personal and positive. Plus, it doesn’t force the other person to develop some profound, meaningful business idiom. By focusing on what makes them smile, it gets their mind churning about something they’re deeply grateful for.

3. What is the most influential book you’ve ever read?

The good news is, it doesn’t matter if you’re familiar with the book or even have the first clue what it’s about. The key is asking how the book positively impacted that person’s life, career, marriage, business, etc. It’s a surefire way to deepen the conversation and your new relationship. And if they’re not a reader, make it about a movie, song, or person.

4. What excites you right now?

It’s a good one because it’s an opportunity to trigger a passionate response, and come on, who doesn’t like to talk about their passion? Maybe they want to talk about the latest project at work or an exciting new development. Perhaps it’s about family and the latest adventure with their kids, and it could even be about their favorite charity or personal project. Whatever the topic, it’s an opportunity for them to talk and you to start connecting the dots with your experiences.

5. What’s the most important thing I should know about you?

What you’re after with any conversation is something to deepen the experience and find a connection between each other. This question can elicit all kinds of emotional responses and gives you exactly what you’re looking for – insight into what makes the other person tick. And it allows you to provide encouragement, sympathy, wisdom, etc. It just may make a difference in their life!

There’s a common thread in these questions you’ve likely already noticed. In all of them, you’re taking the initiative and making the conversation about them. For most people, it is effortless to talk about themselves, and they enjoy doing it. Your ability to put the spotlight on someone else is a rare trait, and you’ll be remembered for it!

Other Good Questions

Here are some additional easy questions that are guaranteed to get a conversation going:

1. What are you looking forward to?

It’s similar to the “what excites you” question, but it’s more forward-looking and allows the other person to talk about a myriad of potential things.

2. What’s the best thing that’s happened to you this year?

It only seems like nothing good has happened lately, but the vast majority of us can reflect on the last twelve months and find something good to talk about! And like the previous question, it opens up a world of potential discussion topics.

3. What’s the most important thing I should know about you?

You’ve got to wait for the right time to drop this one because it’s so straightforward, but it can prompt many responses. And more than likely, you’ll be able to grab a tidbit and explore in more depth with a timely follow-up question.

4. What is one of your defining moments?

Another very personal and straightforward question, so make sure to use it within the proper context, but it’s an open invitation to share some deep thoughts. Just be ready with some relevant follow-up questions!

5. Why did you choose your profession?

At this point, you’ve probably already exchanged professional information after the obligatory “what do you do” question, so this one takes it a few layers deeper. Specifically, it reveals the reason they are where they are and likely will trigger more thought-provoking responses from you.

Wrapping it Up

Once you’re comfortable with each other and it’s time to move on to meeting another new connection, there’s a simple way to close the conversation. Just ask this:

1. How can I be most helpful to you right now?

As long as you are genuine, you’ll be amazed at how people respond to your thoughtful gesture. And even more amazed how it can lead to deeper connections and future opportunities.

Next time you find yourself in a room of strangers, take the initiative and use these questions to get others to start talking about themselves. It takes all the pressure off you, helps you begin to understand your new acquaintance and formulate a strong foundation for future interactions. I hope you have fun with it!

Follow me on LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!


John Christie, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

John is a highly accomplished, enterprising, and strategic leader with more than 25 years of experience with Fortune 100 companies. John brings a stellar record of driving revenue and boosting profits through the development of customer experience initiatives, business development strategies, and operational excellence for his clients. He is President of TAB Eastern Kansas and Sunflower Advisory Group where he provides strategic planning, fractional leadership, advisory services, and executive coaching. His mission: help clients understand "if opportunity doesn't knock, build a door"!



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