The ice is thawing. Community organizations and some individuals are putting holiday entertaining back on the agenda. We don’t know what the future holds but you are getting invites in the mail again. I’ve always thought these are great opportunities to connect with community leaders and business celebrities who are unreachable during the eleven other months of the year.
You’ve been to weddings and alumni association events. Funerals too, unfortunately. You know how to walk up to a stranger and start a conversation. The bigger issue is how do you keep the conversation going after you’ve covered “Where do you live” and “What do you do?”
12 Topics to Keep That Conversation Going
Your shared objective is to get the conversation on a warmer, personal level. You want to identify interests in common. You want to come across as interesting, someone they would want to know better.
1. Vacation travel. Plenty of people have gotten the travel bug. First lockdown prevented us from flying away, then testing and quarantine issues. At last cruise lines have resumed sailing. Some European countries have reopened borders.
Ask: “Do you have any vacation travel plans?” Stop talking. If they mention a destination, you’ve been there or you haven’t. If you have, you can offer to share pointers. If you haven’t, you can ask how they chose that destination.
2. Features of the event. You’ve seen Love Actually. (2003). It’s become a classic Christmas movie. You saw the wedding reception scene when two people break the ice talking about the quality of the music and the food.
Ask: “How’s the food? Any dishes I should try?” Another approach is “I’m getting a drink. Can I bring one back for you?”
3. Restaurants. You can tell pretty quick if they are a foodie. Everyone has favorite restaurants and cuisines. They have their greatest restaurant experiences.
Ask: This can be a “give to get” scenario. “Jane and I are foodies. It’s been said some people live to eat while others eat to live. We are in the first category. How about you?”
4. Participatory sports. About 22 million people played tennis in 2020. About 25 million played golf. These are popular sports. If you play one or the other, it’s a conversation starter. When they tell you where they play, it speakers to their financial situation too.
Ask: “I’ve thankful I’m a golfer. At least during the pandemic I could get out and play because it’s an open air sport. Do you play?”
5. Spectator sports. People have favorite teams. When attending more casual events, their clothing may provide clues to the team they support. (ball cap) People can be passionate about their team.
Ask: “Your hat tells me you are a Yankees fan. Did you see their last game? Wasn’t that incredible?”
6. Recreation. Most people have some sort of hobby. Life is rarely all work and no play. They can be passionate about it.
Ask: “What do you do for fun when you aren’t working?” If they respond “I play golf” you could counter with “What do you do when it rains?” Let them do the talking. Ask questions that draw them out.
7. Gardening. It’s been called the #2 most popular outdoor activity in the US. Because of the pandemic lockdown, it’s popularity grew in 2020 across the age spectrum. You’ve seen the number of TV and radio programs. The British radio program Gardens Question Time first broadcast in 1947, about 74 years ago.
Ask: “Do you have a lawn?” If you aren’t a gardener, start by talking about lawns. Because different areas of the country have droughts, keeping your lawn looking good is a major undertaking.
8. Real estate prices. Although everyone complains about property price increases, if they own their own home, they are secretly delighted.
Ask: “Have you seen what’s been going on with property prices in our area? I’ve heard people need to bid over the offer just to get the seller’s attention.”
9. Inflation. Prices are rising. Although there’s been a hope it would be temporary, Americans are spending and everyday items are costing more.
Ask: “I just got back from the grocery store before coming here tonight. I had no idea prices were rising this fast.”
10, Children. People are proud of their children. A compliment about the child is a compliment to them. They are happy to talk about their achievements. This can work well if you have children too and they attend the same school.
Ask: “How is your son? I was at the game on Saturday and saw he scored the winning touchdown. You must be very proud.”
11. Local news. People involved in the local area are boosters for the local economy. They want to see the area continue on an upward trend. They have opinions about local news stories and cultural activities.
Ask: “I just read in the paper yesterday they just got approval for the museum expansion. That should increase it’s footprint by about 50%. We are members. Are you involved?”
12. Compliment. This one is very basic. You admire their watch, a piece of jewelry, their scarf or tie. It’s fine to mention it because it’s part of their identity, how they present themselves to the world. They wore it for a reason. Who could be offended by a compliment?
Ask: That’s a wonderful bracelet. The rubies and emeralds give it a very seasonal look. Is it a family piece?”
There are many ways to start a conversation and keep it going without appearing to be focused on business or too nosey. The object is to find a topic that gets them talking.