Here are some ideas for conversation topic starters that should almost work in every situation.
Talk about the spread
Many situations that are appropriate for small talk involve food, so use that as a way to open up dialogue:
- Wow, this food looks amazing. What would you recommend?
- That cake looks divine, where did you find it?
- Everything is delicious; do you know who prepared it?
- I’m not familiar with this dish. Do you know what’s in it?
- Oh wonderful, they have my favorite dish!
Pay someone a compliment
Everyone loves to be paid a compliment from time to time, so don’t be shy and let someone know when they’ve impressed you in some way:
- That brooch is beautiful, wherever did you get it?
- I wish I could steal your stylist for myself!
- Your letter to the editor was a great read. I would love to hear more of your thoughts on the issue.
- How do handle so much responsibility so calmly?
- You’ve done such a nice job handling the merger, you really helped lighten the load for me and I appreciate that. Can I help you out with anything?
Discuss what you do and what you are interested in doing:
- Are you in the film industry, too?
- Oh, interesting. What made you go into psychiatry?
- Educators are so amazing to me, your work is so important! What’s your favorite thing about teaching?
- How long have you been a weatherman?
- What do you think about the new technologies coming out in the design world?
- Where’s your favorite business-trip destination?
- Can you recommend any conferences I should attend as a writer?
Talk about background
This can be tricky, as no one wants to be nosey. But, asking polite questions about someone’s background shows interest and can be a great way to open up dialogue:
- What town did you grow up in?
- Do you come from a large family?
- Where is the furthest place you’ve ever travelled to?
- Did you play sports throughout school?
- I noticed your accent, where’s it from?
- What brought you to the city?
Get a little bit personal
By asking more personal questions you will get to become more quickly become familiar with the person you are speaking with:
- What’s your favorite book?
- Who would you bet on to win the Superbowl this year?
- Do you have any interesting hobbies?
- I love watersports, they’re my passion. How about you?
- What’s your favorite holiday?
- If you could go back in time, to what time period would you travel?
Have fun with hypothetical questions
These sorts of questions are a great way to enjoy an informal social gathering:
- What would you do if you won the lottery tomorrow?
- If you were about to be stranded on a desert island and could bring one person with you, who would it be?
- You just found a genie in a bottle. What would your three wishes be?
- Aliens just landed and want you to share with them the five best foods in the world. What would you give them to try out?
- If a movie was made about your life, what famous actor or actress would play you?
Beautiful day, isn't it?
There are some topics that never get old, talking about the wheather is certainly one of them.
- It looks like it's going to rain.
- This whether makes me think of BBQ, how about you?
- Can you believe all of this snow we've been having?
- How about this wheather?
- I hear they're calling for rain all weekend. Did you order this?
- We couldn't ask for a nicer day, could we?
- Can't believe it is Februrary, it is so hot outside.
What a nice occasion!
Use the following ideas for events like business lunches or parties, where the event itself helps give you common ground.
- How do you know the host?
- Did you enjoy the speech/presentation just as well as me?
- Have you attended this event in the past?
- Have you tried the strawberry cake?
- What do you do for a living?
- What do you like to do when you are not working?
- Pretty nice place, isn't it?
- I love your dress. Where did you get it from?
Follow up questions
Be sure to pay attention to the answers people give you. The 5 Ws and H can be great for this:
- Who first introduced you to your favorite film?
- What was it like moving across the country on your own?
- When did you know that you wanted to be a doctor?
- Where did you pick up your impeccable fashion sense?
- Why aren't you writing professionally, you're so talented with words.
- How do you manage to stay so up to date on the new technologies?
More conversation ideas
There are some more examples that often work well - as long as you keep away from controversial subjects.
- Recent, non-political and positive news
- Mutual friends and nostalgic memories
- Sport results