Business Conversation Starters

From my perspective, success in the business world depends as much on your ability to build trust-based relationships with other people as it does on delivering quality results.

The Business Conversation Challenge

Conversation is a natural tool to connect with people in the business world and build trust.

However, it can be tricky to kickoff a conversation with a client, a colleague or any other person in a professional context. The norms that regulate interactions in the business world seem to be somewhat slippery and this makes it harder to find the proper business conversation starters.

For example, I notice many people have a hard time figuring out if it’s appropriate or not to start a conversation with a client on a personal level, talking about family or hobbies.

Business Conversations Starters Ideas

For this reason, I’m presenting you with some of my top ideas for business conversation starters:

1. Comment clothing. Many people in the business world put a lot of time and effort in dressing well, especially when they’re going to a business meeting.

One of the best things you can do when starting an interaction is to notice what the other person is wearing and make a positive, honest comment on their clothes as a whole or one particular item. You can easily kickoff the conversation this way.

2. Use the context. The place you’re in, the event you’re at, these will often provide you with good conversation starters.

If you’re at a conference, you can initiate a conversation with someone by asking them something related to the conference, such as: “What do you think of the speakers so far?” If you’re in your client’s office, look around and if something makes an impression on you, you can make a comment about it.

3. Explore the job. When I’m meeting a person for the first time in a professional context, I will often ask them questions about their job.

I’ll usually start with “What do you do for a living?” if I don’t know that yet, and I may continue with questions such as “How did you get into this field?” or “What do you do precisely in this job?” These are surefire business conversation starters.

4. Explore the organization. A good alternative to asking about the other person’s job at the beginning of a conversation is asking about the company or organization they work for.

Consider questions such as “How did you start working in this company?” or “What’s the work environment here like, from your perspective?”

5. Explore the passing time. If this is not the first time you’ve met a person, it can be a good idea to initiate the conversations by finding out what happened in this person’s professional life in the time that has passed from your last meeting.

Questions such as “What have you been involved in lately?” or “What have you been doing since we’ve last met?” can work wonders.

6. Go personal. If you’re talking with a person you’ve met before and you know some things about their personal life as well, you can initiate a conversation talking about their personal life.

You may ask them “How’s the family”, “How are your tennis lessons going?” anything you’ve talked about before and you’re authentically interested in.

Last but not least, keep in mind that although business conversation can have some important stakes involved, you don’t want to blow its meaning out of proportion. A conversation is a conversation. Avoid over-strategizing it and have some fun with it.

Conversation Starters for a Company Party

Especially in certain periods of the year, company parties are everywhere: your company, clients’ companies, suppliers’ companies etc. Many people find company parties boring and only attend them if the feel obligated to do so.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A company party can be a great opportunity to meet new people and strengthen relationships with people you appreciate, to network and have fun at the same time; particularly if you know some good conversation starters.

The Professional-Personal Mix

People often feel confused about starting and having conversations at a company party because they don’t know if it’s best to treat them in a more personal or a more business way in terms of topics.

Considering it’s the party of a company, starting a conversation talking about business related topics is perfectly OK: the job, the latest business projects and the company.

On the other hand, keep in mind that it is a party after all and people attending it often like to forget about business for a while. For this reason, it’s best not to talk about professional stuff the whole time and eventually transition to personal topics. It is also fine to use convo starters that take the conversation directly to personal topics.

Conversation Starters Ideas

Let’s take things one step further with some smart ideas for conversation starters which you can use at company parties:

1. “How’s work going for you?” A simple, straightforward, work related conversation starter which work great, unless the other person is very shy or hates their work.

2. Ask about specific projects – If you want a more specific approach, use more specific questions such as “What projects have you been working on lately?” or “How is project X going?”

3. Give a compliment – It can be about the person’s choice of clothes for the party, their recent promotion, their success in a challenging project, anything you can honestly compliment.

4. Make a comment about company parties – Every person who has attended at least a couple of them has some thoughts about them. Don’t be afraid to admit you find most company parties boring but you hope this one will be fun. This can be a good way to build some rapport.

5. Latch on the time of the year – Most company parties are near Easter, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve. So, ask questions about preparations and celebration of that particular event.

6. “How are things outside work going for you?” – Get personal and get to know the other person with their life outside of work.

7. “Married? / Kids? / Plans in this area?” – If you like to talk about family, do use this kind of conversation starters. Many people enjoy talking about their family; it’s a very warm topic.

8. “Do you believe the people who are promoted in a / this company are the people who fit in?” – I love to start conversations using business related opinion openers. Just make sure you’re actually interested in the opinion you’re asking for.

These are just some ideas. I’m sure you can find many more good conversation starters for a company party as long as you understand the basic principle. Good luck with them and remember to enjoy the ride!