How to Start a Conversation

When thinking about how to start a conversation with someone new, consider ways to build a shared connection.

Starting a conversation can sometimes be intimidating. It’s important to remember this should be an enjoyable experience for both parties. To set you up for success, let’s dive into some tips for how to start a conversation and the best conversation starters.

1: Start a conversation with “how are you?”

We're naturally curious when we meet someone for the first time. So, the best way to start a conversation is to tap into that genuine curiosity. 

If you’ve ever wondered how to start a conversation, asking the simple “How are you?” is a good beginning. Depending on their reply, you can determine the next step in the conversation.

How to Start a Conversation: 10 Tips
Remember that by making small, gentle efforts, you can nurture a good conversationand your own sense of confidence.. Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Explore different approaches

Their response: “I’m doing great, I was just catching up on some reading.”
Your approach: You just learned a detail about their day. You can decide to ask if they read often, and then if you are also an avid reader, you can share more about books you’ve read.

Their response: “To be honest, not so great. How are you?”
Your approach: This person shared something personal with you, and it’s important to recognize this. It's an opportunity to offer a listening ear, and show that you care about the individual. Gently ask them about their day and, if they want to share more, be a good listener. But, don’t feel like you need to share personal details as well.

Their response: “I’m fine.”
Your approach: Some people are more closed off than others. It’s important to respect their boundaries while finding ways to start a conversation. If they don’t seem inclined to talk about themselves, ask them about a favorite activity (more on that below).

Tips for how to start a conversation with someone new and make conversations easy.
If you’ve ever wondered how to start a conversation, use these tips to make first meetings a breeze. Photo by Hybrid Storytellers on Unsplash

2: Maintain a balance

It takes two for a conversation to happen, so it’s important to share a little about yourself. As a result, the person you're meeting will feel more at ease. Begin by considering ways to build a shared connection.

Build on their answers

Their response: “I’m doing great, I was just catching up on some reading.”
Your approach: “I love to read, especially detective stories. What were you reading?”

Their response: “To be honest, not so great. How are you?”
Your approach: “Have you had a hard week? I’m doing okay, but have also had some ups and downs lately.”

Their response: “I’m fine.”
Your approach: “It’s a pleasure meeting you, and thank you for welcoming me to your home. Have you lived here long?” (Use this approach if you’re meeting someone in their home. By contrast, if you’re out and about, you can share how much you like the place that you’re meeting, such as a restaurant, park, event, or senior center. Try to find some common ground and shift the conversation away from how someone is feeling to wherever you happen to be.)

3: Use the information you have

Go with the flow when meeting someone new. Try to build off the information they’re giving you. 

If someone tells you they were reading, that’s a great opportunity to inquire further on that subject or author. As an example, you can ask if they attend events at the local library or have any book recommendations.

The topic of favorite books is a great conversation starter for all ages and interest. Photo by Jerry Wang on Unsplash

4: Connect on similar interests

If you also have a passion for reading, share that with the other person. For example, tell them all about the last book you read and how much it meant to you. Talk about the genre you gravitate towards the most. As a result, the other person will feel comfortable sharing more details about your shared interest. 

5: Silence negative thoughts

There’s no secret to unlocking the mysteries of how to start a conversation, but an important element is staying in the moment.

Having a conversation should be fun. But sometimes, we get caught up in self-doubt. As a result, many people avoid social situations where they must meet new people.

It’s also true that many of us are out of practice when it comes to starting conversations. For example, many of us stayed at home and limited travel and social gatherings due to Covid-19. Getting back into the rhythm of socializing can be tough. 

That’s why it’s so important to stay in the moment and focus on the person you’re speaking with. Remember that by making small, gentle efforts, you can nurture a good conversationand your own sense of confidence.

If you've ever wondered how to start a conversation with someone new, these tips will help.
Asking someone about their interests is a great way to get the conversation flowing. Photo by Harli Marten on Unsplash

6: Respect boundaries

It’s important to respect boundaries. If someone isn’t feeling up to having a conversation, that’s ok.

Timing is everything and a good conversation can’t be rushed.

7: Avoid getting too personal

What’s too personal? This is a common question when considering how to start a conversation. Here are some helpful tips:

  1. Be aware. The best way to avoid certain topics is to not bring them up in the first place. Consider who you're meeting and choose conversation topics wisely.
  2. Be sensitive. If the person chooses to be vulnerable with you, hold space for them. Give them room to speak. Most importantly, be a good listener. 
  3. Be perceptive. If someone avoids a subject, don’t push further. Focus the conversation on something else.

8: Steer clear of one-way conversations

We all fear conversation killers, aka one word answers. In all fairness, a one-word answer could be an opportunity to change the topic. On the other hand, it might also signal a boundary or a topic to avoid.

Trust your instincts and drop a topic if your conversation partner stops engaging.

9: Keep the conversation going

Active listening will support the conversation, but this is harder than it seems.

If you find that your conversation partner is passionate about a certain topic, ask them more about it. People love nothing more than talking about something they love.

10: Be yourself

Sometimes, we connect with someone new. Sometimes we don’t. That’s ok!

As long as you remain genuine and mindful during the conversation, you have nothing to worry about. 

How to start a conversation with someone new
Sharing common interests and asking questions are both good ways to start great conversations. Photo by AllGo on Unsplash

Best conversation starters

Questions are great conversation starters. Below are some of the best conversation starters you can use the next time you meet someone new.

  1. What’s the best part of your day so far? This is a great conversation starter to keep things positive. Even if the person has had a terrible day, they’ll be able to find something good about it.
  2. What books are you reading? If they haven’t had time for reading lately, ask them to share the last great book they read or what titles are on their list for the future.
  3. What’s your favorite thing about our town? This is a great alternative to asking, “Where are you from?” It’s a conversation starter that prompts people to share good memories.
  4. What’s the last great TV show you watched? Almost everyone has a favorite show. This is a good conversation starter to talk about entertainment in general. Next, ask about movies, plays and other must-see productions they can recommend.
  5. What’s the last thing you bought that you really loved? If you know someone likes to shop, this is perfect. It doesn’t matter if they’ve been shopping for fishing rods or an outfit for a special event; this is a chance to introduce a topic they’re passionate about.
  6. What’s your favorite season and why? This is a great alternative to “Wow, it’s hot/cold/rainy/humid/windy outside today.” This question invites the other person to talk about their favorite time of year.

Topics to avoid in conversation

Once you know a few good conversation starters, it's helpful to recognize the conversation topics you're better off avoiding.

  1. Money: Most people will find this intrusive and inappropriate, and it may bring up bad vibes if they have financial stress.
  2. Politics and Religion: Just don’t go there. 
  3. The past: Steer away from questions about the past because you don’t know the other person well enough. Keep your focus on the present.
  4. Death: Avoid, avoid, avoid. This is simply too heavy to bring up in most conversations. 
  5. Appearance: Don't ask someone’s age or comment on their appearance. Never ask anyone if they are pregnant or comment that they have gained or lost weight. 
  6. Personal Gossip: Don’t bad-mouth anyone. It’s a conversation killer.
  7. Jokes: Sometimes, people unknowingly tell inappropriate jokes. A general rule of thumb is to avoid telling jokes that touch on hot-button, controversial, or political issues. Everyone’s sense of humor is different; don’t assume people share yours.

Don't forget to have fun

Becoming a great conversationalist takes time and practice. Remember that meeting new people should be fun, both for you and the people you meet. Give yourself time and grace, and soon you'll find it easy to start a conversation with just about anyone.

If you enjoy meeting new people and helping the community, you will love working as a Papa Pal.
Working as a Papa Pal is a great role for friendly, reliable people who enjoy meeting new people.

Make new connections as a Papa Pal

If you’re someone who enjoys meeting new people and helping others, consider working as a Papa Pal in the community. 

Papa Pals are part-time companion caregivers who set their own flexible schedules. For example, they focus on having great conversations and doing things together with Papa members, including older adults, seniors, and families. 

Papa Pals help others by offering support with a range of tasks and activities, including help with errands, house tasks, basic technology, car rides, pet care, and light exercise. It's a great job for kind, friendly, and reliable people.

Learn more and start your application to become a Papa Pal.