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Break the Ice: 6 Brilliant Ways to Start a Conversation

Category: Business English Skills, Language Training | 2017-06-24

In today’s international marketplace, there is no question that networking is an essential part of our daily business. But being necessary does not necessarily mean that it is easy. We all know that first impressions are important. Starting a conversation off on the right foot can make all the difference in forming a lasting relationship. However, most people struggle with finding the right words to break the ice with strangers.

In the following post, I offer you 6 different topics you can use to break the ice at your next event. Let’s get started!

6 Brilliant Ways to Break the Ice

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Personal Interest and Hobbies

It is not necessarily a great idea to get too personal right away with a stranger. However, scratching the surface of their hobbies and background is a great place to start. Showing a little interest in who they are and what makes them tick is bound to resonate. Keep it light and don’t dig too deep too early. And remember, back up your opening with follow-up questions to keep the conversation alive.

Here are some places to start:

  • “Did you grow up in this area?”
  • “A friend of mine recently tried (sport – bungee jumping, kayaking, etc.), it sounds thrilling. Have you ever thought about trying it?”
  • “What keeps you busy outside of work?”

Break the ice

The Event

When in doubt, talk about the event. If there is one thing that you and the person next to you have in common, it’s the event. Use that to break the ice!

This is a great way to learn more about the person you are talking to. Where are they from, what industry they are in, why they are interested in the topic. All of this information will come up when they tell you why they are attending the event.

Here are a few ways to get that conversation going:

  • “How did you hear about this event?”
  • “What did you think of that last speaker?”
  • “Great crowd this year. How long have you been coming here?”

Break the ice

Business or Industry

Often times, we end up at industry specific events. This creates an easy way into a conversation. You definitely have something in common with each other, so go with it. Break the ice with a question that leads them to a topic they are familiar with. You will quickly find out where they are in the industry and what is driving them to be at the event.

Start with one of these questions to get the ball rolling:

  • “Where do you see (industry) heading in the next couple of years?”
  • “Can you believe (breaking news in your industry)?”
  • “Have you always been in (industry)? Or did you start somewhere else?”

Break the ice

What’s in the News

With the availability of up-to-the-minute notifications and real-time news reports, most people are in tune with current events. People are generally happy to share their opinions on these topics and this will quickly lead to a genuine conversation.

Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk, recommends that you come to an event prepared. She suggests you “come up with three things to talk about as well as four generic questions that will get others talking”. Preparing questions ahead of time about current events and news highlights is a great way to accomplish this.

Here are a few examples:

  • “Did you read (latest news story) in (newspaper)?”
  • Have you heard about (breaking news story)?”
  • “On my way here, I read an interesting article in (news source) about (topic). Have you heard anything about this?”

To check out more of what Debra Fine has to offer, take a look at this video or visit her website at

The Food

Who doesn’t like food? Almost everyone I have ever met loves to eat and drink good food and wine, beer, etc. More importantly, people enjoy talking about it. Also, with the ever-increasing food content on the web, more and more people are getting into fine cooking.

Break the ice with a question about the food and you will find yourself chatting away in no time. From talking about food, you can easily switch to travel and other hobbies, making for a great conversation.

Start by asking one of the following questions:

  • “Have you tried the Scallop Ceviche? It’s really light and refreshing!”
  • “I recommend the Vitello Tonnato. It is remarkable! And it goes nicely with the wine.”
  • “What would you recommend? The Beef Tartare looks good, but I am wary of raw meat. Any suggestions?”

Break the ice

The Location

Similar to the event, the location itself can create a great starting point for a conversation. Again, a little preparation can go a long way here. Prepare a question or two about the history of the building or part of town where your event is happening.

If your speaking partner has some good information, don’t be afraid to dig a little deeper. Show your interest by finding out how they know about the building’s history.

Use these conversation starters to break the ice:

  • “Do you know when this building was built? It must be at least X hundred years old.”
  • “Have you been here before. The stained-glass windows are beautiful.”
  • “I didn’t even know this place existed until tonight. Cool venue! Have you ever been here before?”

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Putting it All Together

Remember that the most effective conversation starters will vary depending on the venue and type of event. What works at your spouse’s staff party may not be the right ice breaker when meeting a client for the first time. You can be sure of one thing, though. People will always be comfortable talking about what they know, and what do they know more about than themselves?

First, break the ice with open ended questions. Then, show interest in what they have to say by digging deeper into what excites them . In no time at all, you will be creating meaningful conversation and lasting relationships.

Above all, the thing that will make you better at small talk is simply getting out there. The next time you go to an event, set yourself a goal of meeting 3 new people. Approach someone who is standing alone and start a conversation. I promise you, it will go better than you think. Every time you speak to a stranger, it will get easier and easier. Soon, you will be chatting with anyone who comes near you.

How do you break the ice when you meet a stranger? What are your favourite conversation starters? Let me know in the comments below. Don’t forget to sign up for our monthly newsletter for more tips, articles and exclusive deals. Thanks for reading!




7 thoughts on "Break the Ice: 6 Brilliant Ways to Start a Conversation"

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