How to have a fun + fascinating conversation with ANYONE.

 
 

Storytime, friends!

 
A few nights ago, I found myself on the backlot by Stage 14 at Paramount Studios, chit-chatting with entertainment execs over white wine + heirloom tomato salad with a balsamic reduction. Whilst wearing a reeeeally foxy red dress.

Now, I’m not in the “entertainment industry,” and I was there as an outsider — a curious voyeur.

And I couldn’t help but notice that all of the Hollywood Hottie McHotShots at my table were talking about work, work, work.

Will Smith blah-be-de-bloo, promotional cross-over-lah-bah-dee-bah, tightening overhead tra-la-la-la-la.

Don’t get me wrong — I love talking about my work, too. But that night, at that moment, I was craving a new conversation.

I noticed that the person seated next to me (let’s call them, “Quiet Person”) was awfully … quiet.

Quiet Person had arrived alone, without a date or colleague to hold their attention. Quiet Person was tapping away at their smartphone, detached from the room.

I could have turned to QP and said:

“Hi. I’m Alex. I’m a writer + entrepreneur. Nice dinner, huh? So, what do you do?”

Instead, I turned to QP and said:

“Hi. I’m Alex. What was the BEST part of your day?”

QP looked startled, then delighted, then contemplative. I saw QP’s wheels quickly spin, eyes brightening in reflection.

“Actually … now that I think about it … I had a really fantastic workout at the gym.”

We spent a few happy moments talking about how much we both love workin’ out … which flowed into a conversation about our favorite TV shows of the year (QP: REVENGE. Me: SCANDAL) … which swirled into a conversation about our shared love of classical music + opera (we swapped Wikipedia factoids about our favorite pop-crossover tenor, Andrea Bocelli).

Our careers briefly came into the flow of conversation, as they tend to do. But they weren’t the focus.

And yet, at the end of the night, QP handed over a business card, encouraging me to reach out to see how we might work + collaborate together. As it turns out, QP is the director of a major non-profit organization — one with considerable clout + prestige.

Who knew? (I didn’t.)

The happy lesson here?

If you want to have a fun, fascinating + opportunity-generating conversation, you don’t need a “strategy.”

You just need to ask a question that nobody else is asking.

For lots + lots + lots more conversation-starters, read: 100 alternatives to “so whadda ya do?” and 100 questions to inspire rapid self-discovery (and spark your next talk, date, blog post or book.) and “If you really knew me, you’d know…” (the ultimate story-sparker.)

And for practical language you can use to kickstart new relationships, fill your client docket, and sashay your way into all kinds of exquisite opportunities, check out the script packs in my shop.

Go forth!

 
… and light up the room.
 
XO.

P.S. What’s your go-to conversation starter? (And do you love it — or not so much?)

 
 

Comments

Being visual and always noticing fashion, I usually find something about what someone is wearing and give them a compliment.

It usually works pretty well!

I don’t really like small talk (networking even less) but I’m learning that if I’m grounded in my body, calm and pay attention with a deeper sense of awareness it’s easier to connect with another human being and spark an honest & fun conversation. My only rule is to speak from the heart.

I love this post!

I like to ask people “What’s your story”… and that can STILL lead into the job talk… which I promptly call out and redirect as soon as I hear it.

I always loved to answer the “what do you do” question when I was unemployed, because it was funny to see people’s reactions… especially when I told them I was unemployed by CHOICE.

thanks for always keeping the conversation interesting :)

Wow. That *is* my conversation starter…what is your best experience of the day so far? Or if someone is complaining, I shift the energy by asking for a best that relates to the situation (for example, if someone is complaining about her significant other always does this and this and this “wrong”, I ask, oh tell me how you met, or what was your favorite place to go on a date together). “Best” shifts the energy and amplifies the feel of abundance..win-win.

What a great antidote to small talk and a way to engage thoughtfully at an event, especially with people you don’t know. If I see you in person one day, Alexandra, I’ll try and remember to ask you this. :)

Now to look at your other questions / which I am thinking of for some reason as “sparklers” …

My conversation starter is “What is your gift?” – it really helps people think about themselves in a different way than the regular “What do you do?” and softens them up to a new level of conversation.

I love to ask people where they’re from,and soon after that, where they grew up. I’m from a small town in a small province. Knowing where someone grew up is how we figure out how we are connected to one another. Asking someone to tell me about the place they grew up provides an excellent, quick and usually non-threatening way to connect. You leave the conversation understanding the person better.

Usually when people start a conversation with, “So, what do you do?” My answer goes something like this, “I do so many things! Like laundry, raising kids, reading. Oh, you meant, what do I do for a living!” That starting answer makes people relax and put a smile on their face. :-)

Love this! I never never ever ask people what they do because it always (yes always) produces a mediocre response. I love to see peoples faces when I say:

What did you do yesterday? The look at me in puzzled amusement, like it’s a trick question and after about 3 seconds of interested eye contact, they tell me about their day.

I listen actively, then I ask follow up questions, eventually we get around to what we do but its only after several minutes of wonderful storytelling.

I love it, thank you for sharing.

Smile,
Stacey

Like Jean, I am partial to fashion so I often compliment/inquire about something they are wearing. I met the sweetest girl at a donor appreciation event the other week because I kept staring at and admiring her style so finally had to break into the group she was in to tell her so. We ended up having a long and fascinating conversation about all sorts of things.

When I’m at a party or event, I often wander toward people who are quiet and alone. I imagine them to be like me and find it easier to be approached than to do the approaching. Then, I just follow whatever moves me in that moment.

This is AWESOME!

My favourite line – which I teach people when coaching them on how to do networking that they actually enjoy – is

“Hi I’m Marsha. How’s your week been?”

As with yours, the intimacy catches them off-guard in a good way, and from that, you can usually find out what they do, without having to ask them what they do.

But I *love the positivity in “What’s been the BEST part of your day?”.

Thanks a lot. LOVE your blogs, AF. You’re bloody great.

Feel like “networking” is disgusting? Or that most people are “booooring?” Ahem. I beg to differ by @Alex_Franzen http://t.co/4oehlCfEhZ

I love this post! As an introvert, the thought of “networking” and “small talk” pretty much gives me hives, but I hate it when my disinterest with such conventions comes across as bitchy or aloof — I DO want to talk, but about something REAL! I guess I usually rely on looking for the art weirdos to complement on their unique accessories, or hangin by the snacks to chat about recipes or the epic battle of cake vs. pie, so it’s nice to frame it in a way to open a conversation with ANYONE… Thanks!

I love this post! I’ve heard about this before, but I’ve never seen it in action quite as well as you put it just now. It takes some bravery to go out there and ask the un-asked questions. But my daily goal is to step out of my comfort zone as frequently as I can, and this may just be yet another wonderful way to do so – with great side effects. Thank you!

By the way – it’s my first time here. I LOVE your website, Alex!

How to have a fun + fascinating conversation with ANYONE. http://t.co/5XiSc7cuzr via @Alex_Franzen

OMG! This is the post I’ve been waiting for! I always want to ask something not boring, but I can never think of anything. If I’m waiting for a specific thing (movie screening, dinner reservation) I’ll ask about how they heard about the place/thing, but I’m so excited to get some new ideas flowing!

Mine is usually, “Hi I’m Phillipa. Are you enjoying your night/day/afternoon?”

Awesome! ” ask a question that no one else is asking”, definitely a take home for me. :-)

Cool beans, lady.

Love it!

This is great! I have to remember this when I’m out networking and meeting people I don’t know!

Mary on Jun 11, 2013 Reply

Love your take! Hate being asked the question in social situations. Sometimes I make a game where I ask people questions about everything else but what they do. People would rather chat than pitch.

Ex-FG moderator – I watched bright, articulate people shut down verbally when confronted with someone whose job they perceived as “more important” or “more powerful” than their own. NO. Often the ones who quieted down had the best insights!

Ok – that was pretty awesome. I will try this tonight!

I changed from ‘What’s your story?’ (I’ve gotten some gems, though often it feels too broad), to ‘If I had to introduce you to a friend that hasn’t met you, which 3 words would you want me to use to describe you?’. Works really well as it’s specific and non-intimidating, while actuallly cutting to the core of ‘what’s important to you?’ (it’s a bit of a ninja question, sneaky!) ;-)

I’m from Montreal and I find the ‘what do you do’ question doesn’t get asked as much here as elsewhere… I think the Euro influence gives us more of a ‘work to live’ attitude so our job titles are less important. I hate when people ask me ‘what do you do’. I actually find it can be a very personal question, especially for those of us who aren’t working due to health issues, etc. I generally spark up a conversation about whatever’s going on – music playing or food we’re eating, then take it from there. Generic questions are so blah. They usually elicit generic, boring answers (conversation stoppers).

Michele on Jun 13, 2013 Reply

Wow you are like a shy person’s dream!

My conversation starters of choice aren’t verbal: they’re visual – a different tee, an unusual skill that can be shown without being in your face while still attracting attention and helping start a conversation.

I also tend to pick up on those in others.

Great post Alex! I completely agree with talking about non-work. I had a lovely lunch with Jo James (a fab coach for women with big dreams to make big money) to pick her brain. Instead of getting “tips” and coaching, we ended up talking about her career in bar management, her kids and the great Korean restaurants in her hood. We ended we a hug and goosebumps at the knowledge that our paths will cross again, in a big way. HOW AMAZING IS THAT? We didn’t talk shop but just like you and QP, we might do great work together soon.

I LOVED this post. Thank you! xxoo

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