17 Best Things to Talk About for Great Conversations
Coming up with things to talk about can be tough – especially when you’re talking with a stranger, or you’re on a first date. But you don’t need to be Don Draper to come up with something interesting to talk about. In fact, the best things to talk about are usually the most normal things we do and think about every day. Why? Because those are the things that everyone has in common.
The goal is to find similarities
Cheesy one-liners like “What Always Sounds Like A Good Idea At The Time But Rarely Is?” aren’t a good way to create engaging conversation. The goal of bringing up things to to talk about is to find similarities between you and the other person you’re talking with. And research shows that similarity is what leads to attractions and social connections. You don’t want a conversation to be a one-sided game of 20 questions. Instead, you want to find topics of interest that you share with other people and.
In this guide, I’ll show you the best things to talk about with people to have engaging conversations and build social connections.
Topics to get a conversation started
The best way to start a conversation is to focus on the similarities you can see in your immediate surroundings. This works well for two reasons:
- It’s likely what the other person is or has been thinking about recently. This means they won’t be caught off-guard by your question, and they’ll feel comfortable talking to you
- Starting off with deep, personal topics can feel creepy or uncomfortable. You’re also shooting in the dark at this point, so you could very easily bring up a topic that the person doesn’t want to talk about.
Here are a few things to talk about to get a conversation started:
1. What brings you here?
Since you’re both in the same place, you’ll likely have similar reasons for being there. This will allow you to easily expand into other areas of your life, such as work, family and shared interests.
2. How do you know the host?
This one is perfect if you’re at a party or social event. Even if you’re in a room full of strangers, you’ll at least know who’s hosting. From this question, you’ll each learn how you met the host, and likely find out that you have other shared activities or friends that you met
3. How was your weekend?
For most people, the weekend is the time to have fun. And, for the most part, people would rather talk about fun things they’re doing than the routine drudgery of the work week (even if they have an interesting career). This will also allow them to bring up activities they do and people they spend time with, which will make it easy for you to find more similarities and have an engaging conversation.
If it currently is the weekend, instead say “How’s your weekend going?” or “What are you up to this weekend?” These will lead to the same topic as “how was your weekend?”, and have the added benefit of getting people thinking about their future plans, which I’ve always found gets people engaged. It brings up feelings of hope and excitement that talking about the past never can.
4. Do you have plans for [upcoming season / holiday]?
No matter what season or holiday is coming up (summer, Easter, Halloween, Christmas), this question is an easy topic to start with any person. Broad questions about future plans make it easy for people to talk about just about anything that’s coming up on the horizon.
When it comes to your turn to speak about an upcoming holiday, don’t dwell on the negatives like spending time with uninteresting family members or spending lots of money. This will make you appear negative and unattractive. Instead, focus on the all of the things you’re most excited for, even small details like pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce. This will subconsciously make you light up, and the other person will feel this positivity and be more attracted to you.
Things to talk about on a first date
A first date is probably the most nerve-raking social situation you’ll go through. But the great thing about first dates is that they open up a broader range of more intimate topics that you normally won’t be able to bring up anywhere else (without making others uncomfortable).
5. How was your day?
This is basically a more casual way of asking “How are you feeling?”. It will allow the other person to open up about how their day has gone, and the things that are weighing on their mind right now. If they tell you they had a bad day, you can pretty easily infer that they’re not feeling well.
The great thing about this question is that it allows the person to give a more intimate answer, without you having to ask a very direct question like “How are you feeling?”. And even if they answer by telling you a more fact based answer about what they did that day, you can follow-up by asking, “Oh ya, how was that?”. Asking “how” in this manner gently gets them to open up about their feelings and motivations, which is the best way to build a connection on a date.
6. Are you planning any trips?
Travel plans are a great conversation topic because it’s something exciting and special for every person. A trip is something you only do a few times per year (if you’re lucky), so people put a lot of time into thinking about them. With this simple question, you’ll open up a trove of things to talk about: Places their thinking of going, friends they’re planning to go with, motivations for choosing different destinations, previous trips they’ve been on, and more. And with that, you’ll be able to share your thoughts on each topic, and find similarities with them.
This question also has the added bonus of allowing you to plan ahead for your next date. If you know that they’re going to be away next weekend, you can ask to meet them during the week. This helps to avoid what can be an awkward back and forth trying to find a time to meet. And too much of that can lead to incorrect thoughts on the other person’s feelings for you.
7. What kinds of movies or books do you like?
This mashup of two separate things is done on purpose to keep it as broad as possible. Even though movies and books are universal forms of entertainment, sometimes people just don’t spend much time on one or the other – so this allows you to cover two bases in one. No matter what they say, you’ll be able to have a follow-up question that leads to deeper conversation:
- Oh, I just saw that! What did you think?
- Oh, cool I haven’t seen that yet. What did you think?
Both ways allow you to ask for their opinion on the thing they mentioned, which is one of the best ways to make engaging conversation.
Also, the way it’s phrased with the word “or”, as opposed to “and”, makes it sound vaguely like any cultural art form is open for discussion, including music, photography and paintings. It may not sound that way when reading it, but I’ve gotten lots of responses that weren’t only about movies and books after asking that.
8. What are you into?
This is about as broad of a question as you can ask. The powerful thing about it is that it allows the other person to tell you the thing they’re most passionate about, which for some people is their work. If you started with a question like “What do you do for fun?”, they wouldn’t be able to talk about their work, even though it’s what they’re most passionate about, because “work” is not a generally accepted answer to the the question of “fun”.
Using the generic word “into” allows the other person to replace it with a myriad of other words that they feel about the things they spend their time doing. They could talk about “fun” things like, or “passionate” things like volunteering, or just the things that they’ve been most focused on lately like getting in shape or redecorating their apartment.
Things to talk about with co-workers and classmates
It can be easy to fall in a rut with your conversations with co-workers and classmates – especially in high-intensity jobs and courses where people are always focused on their work. There’s people who I’ve worked with for years who I’ve said hello to hundreds of times but little more.
The good thing about co-workers and classmates though is that since they see you every day and you’re working at the same place as them, there’s a pre-built trust factor that
9. Where do you live?
This allows people to talk about their homes and neighborhoods. And you can ask open-ended follow-up questions like “How do you like it there?” that can lead to deeper discussions about the types of neighborhoods you like and shared interests, like outdoor activities, that you both do in your neighborhoods.
It also allows you to talk about your friends who live in each of your neighborhoods. This can lead to the holy grail of similarities – shared friends. If you find out that you’re both friends with another person, you will immediately get all of the trust that the other person has built in to your shared friend. This will make it much more likely that people will open up and share more with you.
10. Where are you from?
This topic works similar to “Where do you live?” – it allows you to ask follow-up, open-ended question about how they liked living there. And after they tell you about the place they grew up, it allows you to get into deeper questions about their childhood and family.
11. What other places have you worked before / what other courses have you taken so far?
This question is great because it allows you to follow up with a question to ask for their opinion about it, like “Oh cool, how did you like working there?”. This allows them to talk about their feelings and motivations, which allow you to talk about yours, even if they have nothing to do with work or courses. I’ve always found that talking about these deeper, more fundamental aspects of ourselves is a fantastic way to build a connection with someone.
12. What are you working on these days?
Discussing projects that you’re working on, at work or school, is certainly one of the easiest subject to start with. It’s what you’re both their to do, so you’ll both be thinking deeply about them and have much to say about them. You’ll even have the opportunity to ask for, and offer, advice, which is a great way to build social connections.
Another great thing about this topic is that it’s always changing, so it’s something you can discuss again and again. But try not to make it the only topic you rely on, otherwise it will start to feel monotonous for others. I’d recommend only using it once in a while, and instead utilize the next topic more often,
13. Did you see [important event]?
This is the basis for what used to be called “water cooler conversation” – discussion about current events and culture. I’ve found it’s best to be brought up during extended idle moments, like in the kitchen or at the coffee machine, when you and others have time for a quick chat while you’re on break or waiting for something else.
One thing that I’ve found helpful is to develop a unique thought or opinion on an event before I bring it up with others. This will allow you to have something more interesting to say than just the facts of the event itself. And this is what will make people see you as a more attractive conversation partner.
Things to talk about with neighbours
Being a neighbour is similar to being a co-worker, there’s a built-in trust factor since they see you so often and you share a common building or street. There’s even societal norms to be “neighborly” and talk with your neighbors, so it’s easier to get them to open up and talk with you than it is with strangers (where there’s societal norms to distrust strangers).
With neighbors, you have the similarity of living in the same place, so that’s the best place to start when choosing things to talk about. You’ll be more likely to connect on certain things that people who don’t live there will. This can help foster a social connection since, in a way, you’re on the same “team” vs. everybody who doesn’t live in your area. This isn’t to say that other people are you enemy, just that, by default, you share a unique connection.
14. Family – Do you live with your family?
Since you share “living in the building / area” in common, people are comfortable talking about who they live with. I would recommend starting by asking if they live with their family instead of their boyfriend or girlfriend, which could cause two uncomfortable reactions:
- They may get hit with the realization that they don’t have a romantic relationship and will feel bad about it
- They may think you’re flirting with them
Asking this allows the other person to share about their living situation, and then you can as well. You can then get into deeper questions about romantic relationships, if they live with a significant other, or familial ones. Since these relationships are generally the most important things in people’s lives, it’s one of the best things to talk about to connect over.
15. How long have you lived here?
This topic allows you to follow up with questions like “How’ve you liked it?” and “How’s it changed over the year?”. These are both great open-ended questions that will get people talking about their opinions, as opposed to just facts and statements. This allows you to talk more deeply and develop a shared connection through shared feelings and opinions. It also allows you to discuss your differing opinions about things and develop new ideas and points of view that you may never have thought of on your own.
16. I’m thinking about trying [X] with my place – have you tried something similar?
I’ve found that most people really like talking about home improvement and decorating. The explosion of Pinterest has gotten everyone into the DIY lifestyle. If you bring up the topic by asking for their opinion on something specific, you’ll allow them to share their own ideas as well – and this will allow you to find similarities in style and function that you can build a connection on.
Is it OK to talk about politics?
With most people: Yes!
We’re usually taught that it’s not a good topic of discussion because it can lead to disagreement and negativity. While this is true, I’ve found that most people are very open-minded when it comes to discussing politics (even though TV and the internet wouldn’t have you believe it). I you come in to a political discussion with an open-mind and truly look to find common ground when you have disagreements, you can find politics to be a great discussion topic.