What’s the Best Way to Start a Conversation?

Red Calayan

September 16, 2019

One time, I was playing at a gig, and backstage I saw this girl that I met once at an internship and she was part of a band that was about to play, so I went up to her to say hi and I said we met before, and she was like, “oh cool.”

Then I had no idea where to take the convo from there, so it just died. I don’t remember what I did but I just remember it was a really awkward exit.

Some conversations just die like that and you wish they never happened. You wish you can just delete them from history, #MarieConvo. But you can’t. What you can do though is to get better at having go-to conversation questions. Also, have an “exit strategy” when you realize a conversation is dying, like whipping out your phone and saying, “Oh sorry, I gotta take care of this,”—this meaning your dignity and your ability to still face people.

Since these untimely conversation deaths happen more during first meetings, we put together a list of conversation starters for people you have just met.

NAME

Starting with names is always a good move. (I mean, hello?!) Whether it’s the first day of class, an org orientation, or some event at school, asking for a person’s name and introducing yourself, all in a light and friendly way, help break the ice immediately. Here are some ways to do it and some ways this question branches out:

  • What’s your name? / Hello, I’m ____! What’s your name? / Hi, sorry, ano name mo?
  • If the name is a bit interesting, you can ask:
    • Is your name short for anything?
    • Is there a story behind your name?
    • Is that your real name or is it a nickname?

STUDIES

Since our context is campus, studies is a huge common ground and it opens up to so many other topics. If they’re in college, you can ask these questions:

  • What’s your course?
    • What’s that about?
    • Is it hard?
    • What’s your favorite thing about your course?
    • What’s the hardest part about your course?
    • Why did you choose your course?
    • Was this your first choice? Was it your parents’ choice?
  • Was this school your first choice?
    • What were your other choices?
    • How did you end up in this school?
    • How do you like it here so far?
    • Did your family also study here?
  • What are your orgs?
    • What do you do in the org?
    • Why did you join your org/s?
    • Was it hard to get in?
  • Where did you go to for high school?
    • What’s the reputation of your high school?
    • What were you known for in high school?
    • Did you rebrand yourself in college? How?

INTERESTS

From talking about organizations, you can actually branch out into interests.

  • What kind of music are you into?
  • What movies have you seen lately?
  • What do you binge-watch?
  • What’s the best place you’ve eaten at lately?
    • Have you tried eating at ____?
  • You can also talk about social media, news, advocacies, and the like.

RECREATION

These questions are more for talking hobbies. When you ask about these stuff, you could be finding common hobbies that you can do together.

  • What’s your PE now?
    • Are you into any sports?
  • Are you into _____?
    • Cooking
    • Singing/playing musical instruments
    • Any visual arts
  • What’s your favorite place in the Philippines?
  • Have you ever been outside the country?
  • What’s on your travel bucket list?

EXPERIENCES

You can jumpstart a conversation based on your common experiences, like maybe you’re taking the same class and the prof is really challenging, or your prof hasn’t arrived yet, or maybe you’re attending the same org orientation, or you’re both just stuck in the waiting shed under heavy rains. These are things you can easily bring up and use to begin introductions.

FAMILY

Talking about family can be on the more personal side of conversation topics, but it’s not too personal that you can’t talk about it. You can jump off from asking about school, if their family also went to this school or not.

  • How many siblings do you have?
  • Where are you guys from?
    • If from outside Metro Manila: Do you speak any other dialect?
  • Where do you guys stay now?
    • If they live far from family: How often do you get to visit? Do you ever get homesick?

DEEPER TOPICS

From any of these topics, you can talk about deeper stuff—hopes, dreams, more personal family stuff, disappointments, frustrations, beliefs, and perspectives on life, and so on. The goal of any conversation is not just to collect information but to find points of connection. To just find out things about a person can feel like an interview or an interrogation, but when our goal is to connect and to form friendships, then conversations will just flow.

So there you have it. You can branch out to so many conversation topics just working with Name, Studies, Interests, Recreation, Experiences, Family, and Deeper topics. If you jumble up the first letters of the categories, you get the word F.R.I.E.N.D.S., which is what you’re going to have when you have good conversations.

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The Author

Red Calayan

Red Calayan is a full-time LIFE coach at Every Nation Campus Katipunan. He is also a former radio DJ, professional meme creator, sitcom script writer, and drummer (or "drummer emeritus" as his bandmates like to say) of a local band, Munimuni.

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