How to Start a Conversation

8 Tips and Starter Topics

Some people seem to have a knack for making conversation, while others struggle to make small talk. Knowing how to start a conversation is a valuable social skill. Whether you want to impress a potential client, strike up a conversation with a love interest, or chat with a new acquaintance, knowing how to initiate a conversation can help you feel more comfortable and confident in various social situations.

If you want to get better at starting a conversation, explore some tips to improve your communication. Preparing ahead, avoiding communication killers, and using simple conversation starters can be helpful.

How to start a conversation
Illustration by Brianna Gilmartin, Verywell.

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Prepare Ahead of Time

If a room full of strangers is your idea of a waking nightmare, starting a conversation at a party or work event can be incredibly daunting. These social situations can be challenging if you are introverted, shy, or socially anxious.

One way to ease anxiety is to prepare in advance. Mentally review what you want to discuss and even consider practicing with a friend. The first step toward becoming an amazing conversationalist is to be prepared.

If you are nervous about starting a conversation, try these three simple strategies before you begin:

  1. Stay positive: Stop worrying about making mistakes and have faith in your abilities. Worrying too much about what you will say next can cause you to lose track of the conversation as it’s happening. Instead, use active listening and stay focused on the other person and what they are saying.
  2. Take a deep breath: If you are tense and nervous, you're less likely to feel at ease. Try to stay relaxed and just let the conversation flow naturally.
  3. Introduce yourself: One of the simplest ways to begin is to just introduce yourself and then give the other person the chance to do the same. Once this initial icebreaker has taken place, try asking a simple question or making a simple observation to help inspire further discussion.

Recap

Before starting a conversation, take a deep breath, focus on the other person, and begin by simply introducing yourself.

Beware of Conversation Killers

While it should go without saying, there are a few things you should avoid unless you are very familiar with the person with whom you are speaking.

While political commentary, gossip, complaints, and offensive jokes might be how your uncle starts conversations during your family get-togethers, it is probably not an example you should try to emulate in your day-to-day life.

As you initiate conversations, anything offensive, controversial, or uncomfortable should be avoided. There is a time and place to express your opinion or even try to persuade others, but ensure that such topics are welcome before you launch into an impassioned debate.

Some research suggests that when it comes to conversation openers, your best bet may be to stick to fairly innocuous comments. In one study, participants were asked to rate the effectiveness of several opening lines that might come from a potential romantic partner: flippant "pick-up" lines, open-ended, innocuous questions, and the direct approach.

Few respondents appreciated the pick-up line approach, but responses tended to be split regarding preferences for the other two opening styles. Women tended to prefer innocuous questions ("What's your favorite team?"), while men favored the more direct approach ("I'd like to buy you a drink!").

Recap

It is best to stick to the innocuous approach when choosing a way to initiate a conversation with a stranger. This type of conversation opener tends to be less threatening yet encourages the other person to provide some response.

Keep It Positive

Try to start your conversation on an upbeat note. Stay away from launching into complaints or making negative observations. No matter what the situation is, you can find something positive to say.

Comment on the weather, the food, the company, or the event itself. Saying something as simple as you are having a good time and hoping that your conversation partner is having a pleasant experience as well is a good way to get a conversation rolling. Even if the situation itself is not perfect, try to put a positive spin on it.

Comments to Lead With

  • “That was a really great presentation, wasn’t it?”
  • “Whoever organized this event sure did a great job!”
  • “Your presentation was excellent. I feel like I really learned a lot!”
  • “It’s quite cold today but the weather report said that tomorrow is supposed to be nice and sunny.”

People tend to respond better to a positive comment rather than a negative one. It helps show that you are a pleasant person who pays attention to what’s going on. Staying positive also helps put others at ease. As a result, people will be more interested in continuing a conversation with you.

Start Simple

Not every great conversation needs to begin with a deep, philosophical, earth-shattering observation. Simple icebreaker comments or questions are a great way to begin.

Examples include:

  • "The weather has been lovely."
  • "The food here is delicious."
  • "How do you know the host?"
  • "Are you having a nice time?"

Commenting on the weather, the room, or the food might seem cliche, but there is a reason why this sort of icebreaker works so well. It’s a simple, easy way to get a conversation rolling, offering a bit of common ground between two strangers. Talking about inconsequential things can lead to further conversations about personal preferences, backgrounds, hobbies, and deeper topics that can help forge social bonds between people.

What the Research Says

In one study published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers performed naturalistic observations on participants to record both small talk and deep conversations over several days. What they found is that people who engaged in deeper, personal conversations also had higher levels of happiness.

This might mean that happy people are more likely to engage others in meaningful conversations—but it also might mean that such substantive conversations may lead to greater happiness. The researchers suggest that “the findings demonstrate that the happy life is social rather than solitary and conversationally deep rather than superficial.”

Not everyone loves making small talk, but it can be an important first step leading to deeper, more meaningful conversations. For example, asking someone about what they are currently working on might lead to a deeper conversation about goals for the future.

While starting a conversation often begins by focusing on small, trivial things, research suggests that having more deep conversations may be linked to greater happiness and well-being.

Learning how to start a conversation can help lead you into these more consequential social connections.

Ask for Help

Asking a question is a great way to start a conversation. Doing this not only gives you a reason to engage the other person—but it also gives them a chance to be helpful.

When using this approach, start with something simple that can be accomplished without a great deal of effort. For example, you might ask someone if they know what time a workshop begins or directions to a particular location.

Conversation Starters

  • “Do you happen to know where I could get a schedule?”
  • “Have you seen an earring? I seem to have lost one.”
  • “Do you know if there will be refreshments served after the workshop?”

One of the benefits of this approach is that asking a simple question can lead to further conversation about other topics. Once you have posed your question and the other person has offered their assistance, it creates something of a reciprocal social contract between you and your conversation partner.

Since they have offered their assistance, it is now up to you to give your thanks and introduce yourself. This can serve as an opportunity for you to ask more about the other person—who they are, what brings them here, and other questions that are relevant given the setting and situation.

Check Your Body Language

Sometimes what you don’t say is just as important as what you do say. As you strike up a new conversation, it is important to pay attention to your nonverbal communication.

Body language can be used to convey interest and emotion. A friendly expression, comfortable stance, and good eye contact, for example, can help show that you have a genuine interest in learning more about another person. Slouching, looking away, and frowning, on the other hand, might make your conversation partner feel that you are bored or disinterested.

Encouraging nonverbal signals include:

  • An open posture, which involves keeping the trunk of your body open with your arms relaxed, helps convey a sense of friendliness.
  • Good eye contact involves looking at a person’s eyes. Don’t stare, which can be threatening. Instead, keep things natural, looking at the other person’s eyes but glancing away occasionally.
  • Smiling can be helpful, as long as it seems genuine and natural. Avoid faking a big smile and try to go for a relaxed but uplifting expression.

Listen and Express Interest

It can be intimidating to try to talk to someone when it feels that you have little in common. In these situations, getting the other person to talk about their own interests, work, or expertise can be a useful way to start a conversation.

Ask a question about what the other person does, then focus on really listening to what they have to say. People often enjoy talking about things they are passionate about, so expressing a genuine interest in the things that other people enjoy can be excellent fuel for a great conversation.

Text or Social Media Conversations

The same rules apply if you are trying to start a conversation in text or online. Start simple and ask a question, preferably something that requires more than a yes or no response. Keep it positive, and show interest in what the other person says.

Strike a Balance

A good conversation does not rely on just one approach.

The best discussions involve a mixture of asking questions, listening to what other people have to say, and sharing things about yourself.

A simple conversation might start by:

  • Asking some basic information (“Did you enjoy the presentation?”)
  • Listening to the answer (“It was great! I feel like I really learned a lot!”)
  • Disclosing your own thoughts (“I thought so as well. I already have some ideas about how I can incorporate those tips into my work process.”)
  • Next, you might repeat the process by asking another question, or your conversation partner might then choose to ask a question about your earlier response.)

You may also find it helpful to ask open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." For example, you might ask "How did you like the speaker?" instead of "Did you like the speaker?"

Learning how to start a conversation is an important skill that can help you build social connections in a wide variety of contexts. It can be difficult initially, particularly if you struggle with shyness or social anxiety, but gaining plenty of practice is the key to become more comfortable talking to other people.

Try to think of every one of these interactions as a practice session. The more often you initiate discussions with others, the stronger your conversational skills will become.

3 Rules of a Good Conversation

Three simple rules that can help you have a better conversation are:

  1. Listen attentively and don't interrupt
  2. Ask questions
  3. Keep the conversation positive

A Word From Verywell

Forging strong social connections is critical for both physical and mental health. Research has found that forming social relationships is linked to a stronger immune system, increased longevity, lower anxiety levels, greater empathy for others, and better self-esteem. By learning how to start a conversation, you will be better able to forge the social connections that are so critical to health and well-being.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Jahromi VK, Tabatabaee SS, Abdar ZE, Rajabi M. Active listening: The key of successful communication in hospital managersElectron Physician. 2016;8(3):2123-2128. doi:10.19082/2123

  2. Kleinke CL, Meeker FB, Staneski RA. Preference for opening lines: comparing ratings by men and women. Sex Roles. 1986;15:585-600. doi:10.1007/BF00288216

  3. Mehl MR, Vazire S, Holleran SE, Clark CS. Eavesdropping on happiness: well-being is related to having less small talk and more substantive conversationsPsychol Sci. 2010;21(4):539-541. doi:10.1177/0956797610362675

Additional Reading

By Kendra Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.