You’ve been there countless times. You walk into a networking event or social function and the first extroverted person drops the suspect questions we’ve all heard ad nauseam:
What do you do?
Where are you from?
Predictable and exhausting. As you run through the scripted answer in your head, you wonder, “Is this someone I really want to talk to?”
The problem is, most of us are guilty of asking those dreaded, superficial questions that lead nowhere beyond the small talk.
Being the Most Interesting Person in the Room
Truth is, we aren’t consciously aware of when we bore others; in our heads, we think our topics are brilliant and the person nodding in front of us with that glazed look is fascinated by something interesting to us only.
Regardless of your personality type, there are several things we must do to have the kind of captivating conversations that will attract others to our social circle. I’ll follow that up with the questions we want to ask to initiate great conversations (or, if you prefer, scroll toward the bottom to claim your prize).
- Don’t drag on Basically, make it a habit to be brief and get to the point.
- Talk faster Speed up the tempo of your dialogue if you know you talk slowly and pause often to gather your thoughts or process your own thinking; otherwise you’ll lose the listener as fast you as you can spell y-a-w-n.
- Avoid polarizing topics To make a great first impression and draw others to you, stay upbeat in conversation and don’t bring up heated current events around race, religion, and politics.
- Show your emotions Avoid being serious or speaking in a monotone -- display your emotions, laugh at people’s jokes (if they're actually funny), and be animated when telling your story.
- Be aware of body language Smile at people, have an open and welcoming posture, make eye contact, nod your head to acknowledge understanding, and lean in (or forward, if seated) to show interest.
- Be a giver, not a taker Some people show up with a taker mentality--hoping to get something from someone, rather than to add value to the interaction and serve someone else without the expectation of a quid pro quo.
- Approach every conversation with a growth-mindset Come ready to learn from someone, rather than think you're there to impose your “wisdom” on the other person. Approach the conversation with an open mind and see the possibilities of engaging the interaction to grow and develop as a person.
5 Questions That Lead to Great Conversations
The key to creating meaningful interactions? Take your eyes off of yourself and place it on the other person. By giving them the attention first, you'll have a clear edge: People are naturally wired and looking for connection and positive affirmation -- to be seen and heard.
And it all starts with asking the right questions. So kill the small talk and ban questions like “What do you do?” and “Where are you from?” in favor of these great conversational starters.
1. What's your story?
This open-ended question is bound to trigger something interesting after the other person gets over the initial shock that you asked it. By opening up a conversation in this manner, you’ve given them access to speak from their hearts and share their life’s journeys, dreams, and goals.
2. What makes you smile when you get up in the morning?
A great question that gets the interaction hopping on a positive note from the get-go. Watch the other person’s wheels turn as she reflects on something for which she’s excited or deeply grateful.
3. What is that one book that has influenced you the most?
The brilliance behind this question is not the question itself, but the invitation for follow-up questions because of the book’s impact on that person’s life, marriage, career, or business. Asking it deepens the conversation (and the connection) as you learn more about how the topic has positively altered that person’s life in some way. If they’re not avid readers, ask about movies or famous people.
4. What absolutely excites you right now?
This question triggers passion. Who doesn’t like to speak from their most passionate space? It may end up being their thriving career, a new job, or an exciting new phase of their business. It could be personal: the arrival of a new baby, having beaten cancer or finding true love. Whatever it is, think of all the places the conversation will lead, and the possibilities of connecting the dots with the other person when it’s your turn to shine.
5. What's the most important thing I should know about you?
In line with all the others, this question will elicit emotions to deepen the conversation and find connecting points. That's what you’re after -- creating space to discover what makes the other person tick, unique, or maybe frustrated so you can offer encouragement or make a difference in his or her life.
Finally, did you notice a pattern? It should be obvious. Here’s a hint: You take the initiative and make the conversation about the other person. People love to talk about themselves. This selfless act of putting the spotlight on someone else makes you the most interesting person in the room.