For some folks, small talk comes naturally. Others, like me, find it excruciating in all but the smallest doses. For the chitchat challenged, one way to make small talk more bearable is to arm yourself ahead of time with less boring conversation openers.
While yet another mind-numbing exchange about the weather or the local sport team is an agonizing prospect, a clever, unexpected query can throw people off their prepared scripts and turn a dull event into an occasion for actual human connection.
That's why I'm always on the lookout for good starter questions, and it seems the internet is on a roll recently. Last week, I discovered a massive list of upgrades to the standard "What do you do?" question from author Chelsea Rustrum. This week, I came across another list of appealing get-to-know-you questions from Gentleman's Gazette.
The complete post offers general rules to improve your small-talk skills (such as avoiding yes-or-no questions and being willing to simply walk away from reluctant conversation partners), as well as lists of "starter questions" to get a discussion going and deeper questions to move it into more meaningful territory once you're warmed up. Here are some of the best to add to your personal store of small-talk sweeteners:
- What gets you fired up? This one is good for beginners, as it "is highly open-ended, and therefore a little bit less intimidating to ask," says the post.
- What do you say more often in life: yes or no?
- What would you tell your teenage self if you could go back in time? "This question requires more vulnerability than most, so it helps to have thought through your own response," cautions the post.
- What do you wish was different about modern parenting? Be warned, if you're in a group of parents, opinions could get heated.
- What have you created that you are most proud of? Everyone will enjoy answering this one. Who isn't happy to toot their own horn when asked?
- What chance encounter changed your life forever? A great way to nudge someone to tell a life story.
- What is one thing you're glad you tried but would never do again?
- Who's your go-to band or artist when you can't decide on something to listen to?
- Where is the most interesting place you've been?
- What social customs do you wish would just disappear? My vote goes to the entire concept of the bikini wax. Yours?
- What quirky things do people do where you are from? Every place has its local oddities. Plus, you might just learn an insider secret about some corner of the world.
- What question do you always want to ask people but don't have the courage to ask? This one is definitely not for the timid, but it can "open the door to discussing taboo but interesting topics" if you think the conversation has reached that stage.