Topics to Talk About – 13 Experts Reveal Their Favorite Conversation Starters
Topics to Talk About – 13 Experts Reveal Their Favorite Conversation Starters
How to keep a conversation flowing.
Everyone can recall a great conversation they had – one that might have even been life changing.
Sadly, you might also remember a long and unfilled awkward silence that left both people feeling uncomfortable.
However, there ARE people that have mastered the art of conversation. I decided to gather 13 of them and ask them one question:
What is your favorite question to start up an interesting conversation?
Let me tell you, the insights I received from these 13 Experts is PURE GOLD. I’ve listed them below.
– Responses listed in the order they were received –
Terry Heick – TeachThought
“What do you love?
Affection is the foundation for understanding, connecting, relationships, maintenance, restoration, great design, literature, music, love–almost anything good that people do starts with or is done through affection. Affection is the ultimate why? and gets people talking and curious–in a state of flow when they work, and unguarded and vulnerable and authentic when they talk.”
Angela Watson – The Cornerstone For Teachers
“What’s going on that you’re really excited about right now?
It gives people to permission to cut through the small talk and dive immediately into the work or experiences they’re most passionate about.”
Steve Hargadon – The Learning Revolution Project
“Can you remember a specific experience when you felt like you were really learning–when you were deeply engaged and growing as a learner?
Follow-on question: What were the conditions that led to that experience?
This is powerful enough I actually created a tutorial for using these questions at https://www.conditionsoflearning.com/”
Neil Jarret – EdTech 4 Beginners
“I would put forward the power of using the word explain.
Often individuals can easily give you a direct answer to a question. However, if you ask them to explain an answer, this involves greater thought.”
Douglas Green – Dr. Doug Green
“It depends on the context. If I’m traveling and run into a stranger, the ultimate conversation starter is:
Where are you from?
Since I am pretty conversant with the world at large I have no trouble taking it from there.
If the context is a group of teachers or a graduate class, I have found presenting a scenario that requires action and asking them – What would you do? Yields the best results. People are born to solve problems, so giving them one should get them started.”
David Didau – The Learning Spy
“Most of my work focus on helping people develop a healthy skepticism, so most of the questions I ask tend to be along the lines of How do you know? or Why do you think that?
However, these sorts of questions can make people feel annoyed and can put them on the defensive, so perhaps my favourite question to start a conversation or discussion is:
What if you were wrong? What would you do differently if you discovered that what you believe isn’t true?
This is a gentler, more persuasive way to make people think about rationality, the nature of evidence and the power of belief.”
Kathy Schrock – KathySchrok.net
“My favorite question is:
What is your passion?
Everyone has one, and loves to share!”
Matt Bergman – Learn Lead Grow
“We are wired to love a good story. I always love asking someone two questions:
What experiences made you the person you are today?
Who would you like to be in five years?
As I grow older, I have realized that learning from others is one of the most important things that we can do. There are so many things we can learn from another person’s experiences, successes, and mistakes.”
Timothy Shanahan – Shanahan on Literacy
“Given that I’m an expert on literacy, my work is always focused on how to help people to read better, not surprisingly, my questions turn on literacy.
If I’m talking to educators I ask: What is the most important factor in improving reading achievement? It’s funny that we talk so much in education about raising reading scores, preparing kids better for college and work, and so on—and, yet, there is precious little discussion of what it would take to actually turn things around for kids in reading.
Of course, there is more than work—and yet, in my personal life the best question turns on literacy, too. Asking someone, What is the most recent book that you have read—or the most recent book for fun or the most recent book for work? usually opens up a wonderful discussion. People, even those usually taciturn about themselves, will tell all kinds of things about themselves when they explain what they read, what they got out of it, why they read it, and so on.”
Chris Macleod – SucceedSocially.com
“In a low-key, friendly social situation like a party I can’t think of a favorite conversation-starting question I have. I usually keep it pretty simple, and start with basic getting-to-know-you questions. I live in a small city where a lot of people around my age recently moved for work or university, so if I’ve met someone I’ll sometimes phrase my initial question as something like:
What’s your rough story? Have you been in town long? Did you move here to go to grad school or anything like that?
I know there’s a type of social skills advice that says you should avoid boring standard small talk questions at all costs, but in my experience they work fine. I find it’s not so much about what the initial question is, than what I do with their answer and where I take it from there – Do I ask good follow-up questions? Do I have something interesting I can add? Am I picking up on an element in their answer that’s taking the discussion in a direction we’d both be interested in talking about?, etc. Are other fundamentals like my body language, confidence, sense of humor at least okay (they don’t need to be perfect)
In my experience different questions lead to good conversations with different people. If the first doesn’t go anywhere, the next might. With one person I may ask what they do for work, and it turns out they’re in a similar field, and it’s not long before we’re having some in-depth talk about our dreams for the future. With another person the job question may not lead anywhere, but if I then ask if they’ve seen any good shows lately we may then having fun chatting about our favorite series for half an hour.
I also find that whether a conversation goes in a light/fun or deep/serious direction is also often a matter of how you follow up than the initial question. Like if I meet someone, ask about their job, and they tell me they’re an investment banker, if I follow up with: Ha ha, so is the stereotype true. Do you guys really party as hard as in the movies? the conversation is going to down a different path than if I asked them what they think about some recent article I read on proposed banking regulations.”
Janice Galarza – PreK Partner
“When I am amongst colleagues and I want to start a professional discussion I enjoy asking:
What is the main struggle you face in your classroom?
Their answers, of course varies depending who I’m asking.
I have received responses such as classroom management, parents, communication, behavior issues, administration, etc. Teachers, especially early education teachers face many classroom struggles.
Tamara Chilver – Teaching with TLC
“What do you like to do for fun?
People enjoy talking about what excites them. Whether it is traveling, hanging out with their family, playing a sport, or engaging in a hobby.
I listen carefully for something that we have in common to continue our conversation. Those common threads are what tie us together as people. They create meaningful and authentic conversations that people will remember.”
Paul Sanders – Get the Friends You Want
“I wouldn’t say there is a question that inspires great conversations. Rather, I would say that there is a series of questions.
If you want to have a smooth, interesting and bonding conversation with someone new, then asking one specific question won’t do it. Instead, you can create amazing conversations by following certain steps.
First step: Start the conversation by commenting, or asking about something in the context/environment where you are.
Ideally, you want to be in a context or situation where it’s appropriate and expected of you to meet people and socialize.
As you start talking to someone, ask them what their relationship to that environment is. Example: If you’re in an event about a type of music ‘Have you always been listening to this kind of music?‘ Once they answer, tell them what your answer to that same question is. Example: ‘Yeah me too, It’s the first time I listen to this stuff and I kinda like it.’
Second step: Find something that is interesting to them, and ask questions about that.
As you talk, try and branch out from the subject of the environment. Try and figure out what they do outside school/work. Try and find out where they lived/worked in the past, and what they see themselves doing in the future.
Here is the kicker… ask ‘WHY?‘
If you ask about the reasons behind what they do, what they like, or what they would like to do, you’ll get some valuable information that can reveal a lot about them.
Maybe doing what they do now makes them really feel connected to others. Maybe it’s challenging, and they’re someone who loves challenge. In any case, you’ll reveal what really makes them tick. You can then expand on that, and get in the details. They’ll be excited to talk about what really drives them, so that’ll make for a great conversation.
Just remember to always contribute with your own views. Share your experiences and stories (and even what you’ve heard) about that particular thing they’re excited about.
The reason this works so well, is because you’re not focusing on content and topics that might interest some people, but not others. Instead, you’d be focusing on what drives and excites the other person.”
Are You Excited for Your Next Conversation?
HUGE thanks to everyone who contributed to this awesome post! Please share if you think it was useful!
Now it’s your turn:
If you could only ask 1 Question to spark an interesting conversation what would it be?