Whether you want to start a conversation with a new guy or girl, or you want to get a meeting off to a great start, a good ice breaker can help you make a memorable first impression. It can turn that first encounter with someone new into something wonderful -- maybe even a lasting friendship or valuable partnership.
A bad ice breaker, however, can be a recipe for disaster. It can spiral out of control and become a terrible waste of time or an embarrassment for everyone involved. So how do you start a meaningful conversation with someone new and avoid embarrassments or awkward moments of silence? Where do you begin?
Understand that it's normal to feel nervous when approaching someone new. Everyone gets a little shy at first -- after all, you don’t know what this other person is like. Start by filling your idea vault with possible ice breakers to start a conversation and follow-up questions to sustain the conversation. Listen attentively to the other person’s responses, because this can make or break your follow-up questions. To help you out with ideas for starting a conversation, here are 10 of the most effective ice breakers you can use in different scenarios to get a conversation off and running.
“How Are You Doing Today?”
A genuine hello accompanied by a heartwarming, three-second smile is one of the most basic, highly effective ice breakers there is. Often, we brush simple things aside as being too simple, not realising the simplest things can have the biggest impact in life.
Think about the people who say “good morning” or “howdy” to their neighbours. This simple greeting is usually followed up with “how are you” or “how are the kids?” Before long, the two parties are talking about their families and even favourite sports teams.
This comment represents a classic technique that is quite effective for starting a conversation. Regardless of whom you are talking to, saying something genuinely nice about their outfit, accessories, or even mood will usually be received well.
The person receiving the compliment will thank you and possibly say something nice about you in return. In doing this, a dialogue begins. Keep the dialogue going by asking a question like “Where did you buy the earrings? I really like them.”
“Does This Shop Always Have Such Long Lines?”
Simply commenting on an unpleasant or uncomfortable situation that you both experience in your immediate surroundings is another effective strategy for starting a conversation. You can comment about a long bathroom line or wobbly waiting-room chair.
By focusing on an unpleasant situation that you both find yourselves in and subtly complaining about it, you cleverly suck the other person into an unwitting pact that unites both of you against a common enemy.
“I'm Loving This Cold Snap!”
Yes. Talk about the weather. It may sound clichéd, but it works wonders in real life. People talk about the weather all the time -- it’s a topic everyone has an opinion on. Think of how you have an opinion about what dress or fashion choice is right for different weather.
Once the person responds, you can ease into the conversation with “small talk”, like “The wind is so strong; it nearly blew me over!”
“Oh, Did You Hear About…”
Kick-start a conversation with a description of an interesting or funny story. Get right in to your story description and then allow the other person to make a remark or share an opinion of the story.
If your story is interesting enough, there really is no telling where it could take the ensuing dialogue and for how long you could stretch the conversation once your new friend gets on board.
“What Kind of Drink is That?"
People love eating and drinking. If the person you want to start a conversation with has a nice-looking drink or a delicious-looking burger, comment on how delicious (or not delicious) the burger is. Alternatively ask what kind of drink he or she’s having.
When he or she replies, follow up with something like “Do you really like it?” or "Can I buy you another?” Introduce yourself, and don’t forget to flash your best smile.
“That’s a Lovely Name; Are You Named After Someone?”
This works especially well in a workplace setting, business meeting or conference where people are wearing name tags. If he or she has an interesting name, walk up to them and say something like, “Camille, lovely name. What’s the origin of the name?” She’ll probably be excited to tell you about her name, and a conversation will ensue before you know it.
“Hello, Do You Work Here?”
This also works well at a workplace or business setting where people are wearing name tags. Even if you know the answer, ask whether he or she works there anyway. If you know some people who work at his or her company or retail store, mention them.
Follow up with related questions like “What do you do here?”, “Have you been working here a long time?”, “Do you like it here?” and “What’s the best/worst part of your job?
“People Call Me David, but You Can Call Me TONIGHT.”
OK, telling a joke is easier said than done. Jokes can be tricky, but they’re some of the best conversations starters to throw at someone new. They help the other person see a witty, fun side of your personality.
That said, unless you’re really confident about your joke-telling skills, it’s probably a good idea to avoid them or start with a self-deprecating joke. You can’t possibly offend yourself, can you?
“Excuse Me, I Just Thought I Should Come Over and Talk to You.”
Sometimes, the best and most fun ice breaker is honesty. Walk up to him or her and just be honest. Tell him or her that you want to talk. Point out how awkward and funny the situation actually is for both of you and that you are trying to make the best of it. Honesty really can be the best policy.
This story has been updated since its original publication date.
David K. William is a web writer, publisher and consultant. He writes and publishes articles, reports and fiction for web and print media. David is also founding editor of WebWriterSpotlight.com where he shares tips and tricks about the art of web content writing and building successful businesses online. Follow on Twitter @writerspotlight.