A great conversation opener shows you have proper conversation skills, but avoid these three blunders.
They say that public speaking is one of the biggest fears people have, and so, creating conversation is another contender. Now, I don’t mean having to get on a grand platform in front of a crowd; I’m simply referring to speaking to others as you meet them, one on one. This type of public speaking is like the nasty sibling of awkwardness and makes many people so nervous that they forget their manners.
However, as a professional public speaker and a seasoned schmoozer, I like to think I’ve learned (the hard way) what makes for a great conversation starter and what seems to always miss the mark. After all, that first interaction can be detrimental to future engagements, so you want to make sure you don’t slip up. With that, take a breath and wipe your palms dry, then check out my top three quick and dirty tips to avoid inappropriate conversation starters:
Tip #1: Don’t Lie
A friend of mine used to tell me that if he was ever unsure about how to start a conversation, he would just make something up. Yup, he would lie. For example, one of his classic lines was creating a hilarious story about how Robert DeNiro once spilled coffee on him at a Starbucks in LA, which DeNiro profusely apologized for. But my friend’s only response was, “Hey, you talkin’ to me?” Who would ever believe that story? Ironically, this particular friend is not as shady as his conversational practices seem to be, but his method for breaking the ice was anything but kosher. This always confused me, since on one hand he was this honest upstanding guy, but on the other, I felt I couldn’t really trust him. I mean, how did I know what he was telling me wasn’t a lie or a slight exaggeration. When I was with him during one of his “go-to openers”, he brought me into his story by saying, “Richie, you were there. How crazy was it?” And that’s when it got very uncomfortable.
Any mannerly person will tell you it’s highly improper to A) Lie, B) Bring someone else unwillingly into said lie, or C) Create a false identity in front of others simply to win them over. Along with these three helpful facts, the worst thing that could happen is if people really truly dig deeper into the lie and it becomes a bigger ball of trouble. I mean, my buddy has a catalog of lying openers he uses and what if someone wants more information on one of them, and he can’t provide it? He has to lie more and that will only lead into a world of lies upon lies. Hardly what should be common practice. If you truly can’t figure out anything to talk about, never resort to lying. A simple opener is always around the weather. And make it your own like, “Wow, crazy weather we’re having right? It’s like three seasons in one week!” Everyone can relate to whacky weather and will always lighten a mood.
Tip #2: Don’t Complain
Every party has a pooper and that last thing you want to be is that pooper! However, complaining is a very common way for people to open up a conversation. Ever see the episodes of SNL with the Debbie Downer character? Every time someone spoke to her, she had a depressing response. Hardly someone you want around. A similar situation happened with Modern Manners Guy Twitter follower, Jack was at work dinner, and was nervous to sit down with his brand new colleagues. So, being new and being nervous, Jack tried to “act calm” by complaining about his relationship. He was exaggerating about how bad it was, told stories of how his girlfriend cheated on him and overall, just really brought the house down with his complaining. Sure, he now had something to talk about but hardly was complaining the proper way to break into conversation with his new coworkers. In the end, Jack didn’t make the impression he imagined and his desire to “open” conversations up sadly ended up just shutting doors.