Executives, Here’s How to Start a Good Conversation with Anyone

Let’s say that you’re at a conference and you see a prospective client you’d like to talk to in order to begin nurturing the relationship. Or maybe you’re at your child’s sports game, at happy hour down the street from your office, or at a social event and really wish to speak with someone you see there.

Do you struggle with how to break the ice…sometimes for so long that you psych yourself out and miss the opportunity to connect? Or do you throw caution to the wind, decide you’re gutsy enough to strike up a conversation with a total stranger, only to feel your stomach drop from the look of inconvenience and/or discomfort on their face after just a few words from you?

For most of us, it’s difficult to know how to start a good conversation with a complete stranger. But we all know that how you start a conversation with someone is important to developing a relationship with that person and to your inevitable bottom line, which means that getting it right is crucial.

Below, I’ll explain a surefire way to break the ice no matter the situation you’re in or the person you wish to connect with via conversation.

Bernard Marr is a globally recognized expert in strategy, performance management, analytics, KPIs and big data. He promotes using one of the following conversation starters in your efforts to talk to absolutely anybody:

  • Skip the small talk. Talk of the weather is as bad as cheesy pick-up lines when it comes to starting a conversation.
  • Ask for their opinion. Everyone has one! For someone you don’t know well, start with light subjects like the food, the music, the atmosphere, etc. 
  • Ask for their advice or recommendations. This works very well, as in “All of these menu choices look incredible. What are you having?”
  • Ask them a question that’s easy to answer. Just avoid asking anyone to explain something super complex or involved, which can feel demanding.
  • Comment on the environment. No matter where you are, there are things to comment on such as the music, the food, the lights, the guests, and so on. 
  • Ask for an update. If you know a little about someone, ask for an update on something you know they’ve been doing, for example, “I heard about your new business endeavor in your interview on [insert podcast name]. How’s that effort coming along?”
  • Ask open-ended questions whenever possible. If your question can be answered with a simple yes or no, don’t be surprised if that’s what you get. 
  • Ask a hypothetical question. These can be great conversation starters, but try to tie them into something happening at the event or in current events to avoid seeming too random.
  • Ask about their kids, pets, or hobbies. People love to talk about the things that are important to them. 

Admittedly, these conversations starters are fantastic.

But there’s a simpler way…

How to Start a Good Conversation with Anyone: #1 way

If you want to skillfully start a conversation with anyone, anywhere, at anytime then use the conversation starter “Excuse me.”

Why does “Excuse me” work?

Most of us expect a polite request after someone interrupts us with “Excuse me,” so we generally tend to respond in a helpful manner. 

“Excuse me is so fantastic because you can use it to get a foot in the door in almost any situation – even if you struggle with shyness or social anxiety – and then follow up with whatever you like.”

Julian Reisinger on Quora

According to Julian, “Excuse me” is such a powerful conversation starter because:

  • It is an ideal way to start a conversation and build a little sympathy at the same time
  • It is a perfect way to test how open someone is towards you without any chance of a negative reaction
  • It is ideal for shy people because it’s so much easier to start a conversation with a socially accepted and non-threatening request than with a more direct approach

Rather than show weakness, “Excuse me” shows that you need a little support. So, unless someone is heartless (or temporarily inhibited by extenuating circumstances such as sickness, exhaustion, stress, etc), they will almost certainly respond to your polite interruption with genuine openness. 


Strong relationships and effective networking are what successful businesses rely on. So, it stands to reason that the greater our ability to connect with strangers, the greater our network will become. When we consistently take the time to reach out and open doors for ourselves, our endeavors will flourish.

If you need help growing your network or leveraging your existing network, hire a virtual assistant. They will increase your business exponentially by keeping you in front of existing contacts, getting you to upcoming events, and creating opportunities that you would otherwise be hard-pressed to discover on your own. 

Additional resources

5 Habits That Increase Business Networking Success

How to Leverage a Virtual Executive Assistant for Business Networking

10 Ways to Nurture Business Relationships: Active Versus Passive

5 Ways to Build Your Business Relationships