“Hello. My name is … uh, um … John?”
We’ve all been there: You try to introduce yourself to a potential new client, colleague or acquaintance when your nerves take over, your palms get sweaty, and you’re suddenly at a loss for words.
So what can you do to break the ice with a prospect without repeating the same old forced introduction? One key is to put your nerves on a shelf. Start by practicing your conversation skills in front of a mirror or with family and friends. You might also try writing down ice breakers as they occur to you, and reading up on issues that may be of interest to your clients.
Finally, you need to be genuine.
Once you master the art of casual conversation, your professional instincts will kick in. You won’t get caught at a loss for words, and you’ll get better at small talk with each new person you meet.
We took to the Internet to find the best conversational ice breakers. You can use these ideas when you meet new people or even when you give a public presentation.
Overcome the perception of intimidation
For many people, the issue at the heart of their fear of small talk is the unfounded perception that the other person, the “new” person, seems intimidating. Just the idea of walking up to a stranger and starting a conversation can induce an anxious queasiness.
But did you ever stop to consider that perhaps the other person is uncomfortable or equally intimidated by you? We’re all human, after all. That means many of us share the same fears.
When you become clear with yourself about the difference between reality and your perception of a person or event, it instantly becomes easier for you to relate to new people.
Then, consider where the meeting is taking place. Is it a professional networking event or something less formal like a cocktail party, church picnic or community gathering? Perhaps you just bumped into your prospect in the produce aisle at your supermarket?
Keep in mind that the place and the ambiance should determine when and how it’s best to strike up a conversation with a stranger. If you’re leisurely walking on the treadmill at your gym, for instance, and the person next to you is sprinting with their headphones on, that would not be an opportune time to try and chat.
Here are 10 approaches to consider when you do find the right opening to strike up a conversation.
10. Comment on the weather
It may seem cheesy, but the weather is something that we all experience. That makes this topic foolproof when you hope to get a reaction from someone with whom you may want to talk further. According to Inc.com, talking about the weather is a great ice breaker because it enables you to make an instant connection with someone.
9. Say something nice
“These cupcakes are so tasty!” or “I really love your work.” Paying someone a compliment or making an upbeat observation rarely fails to open the door to a broader conversation.
8. Take notice of personal style
While this can work as well as paying someone a straight compliment, you also need to be careful. Where one snappy dresser might be thrilled to engage in a conversation about trendsetters and emerging styles, in the wrong setting, it may not be appropriate to pick apart someone’s personal appearance. Other people might misconstrue your comment, or find it insincere.
That said, if you genuinely like a gentleman’s fedora or a lady’s heirloom jewelry, by all means, say so.
7. Mention mutual acquaintances
When you close the degrees of separation between yourself and someone else, you immediately gain a familiarity with a new person and make that individual feel like part of your social circle. Just make sure that the person you want to talk with and the person you have in common actually have a good relationship. The last thing you want to do is bring up a sour memory.
Also, beware of name-dropping, which can come across as arrogant.
6. Find common ground
Did you grow up in the same place or attend the same university? Were you part of the same fraternity? Maybe you share similar hobbies. All of these points are great to mention when starting a conversation with a new person.
If you don’t know where that common ground may lie, you also can try asking friendly questions so that the person who was previously a stranger instantly becomes more familiar.
5. Ask for an opinion or advice
If you don’t have an opinion about many things, than you may not actually be human. Everyone has distinct tastes and impressions, and most are eager to share them. What’s more, asking for someone’s advice signals that you care about what that person thinks and value their perspective.
4. Comment on the setting
You can always make observations about the music, the food, the company, the venue or any other characteristic that defines your current shared environment, according to Bernard Marr, a bestselling author and keynote speaker on analytics and big data.
After all, no one should ever pass up a conversation that begins: “They’re playing the best of the 80s, don’t you think?”
3. Ask open-ended questions
There are questions that you can reply to easily with “yes” or “no.” These are not conversation starters. Instead, ask questions that begin with Who? What? When? Where? Why? or How? These open-ended questions encourage your respondents to elaborate on their reply and therefore keep your conversation moving forward. This is especially true when you make an effort to genuinely listen and respond to their answers.
See also: 3 words to torpedo your call
2. Ask hypothetical questions
“If you had all the money in the world and no need to work, what would you do?”
This great hypothetical question not only lets your listener know that you are interested in their opinion and that you are curious about their aspirations. It gets them thinking, and reaches them on a personal level. “Would you ever live in space?” is another great conversation starter.
1. Simply introduce yourself
When in doubt, there’s really nothing wrong with simply saying hello. But if you’re still hesitant, maybe open with something like this:
“Is this table/seat taken?”
“Mind if I sit down?”
Or the ever popular:
“Hi, my name is …”
For more ideas on how to start a conversation, watch these TEDx Talk videos.
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