- Holiday parties where you know virtually no one can be awkward, especially if you’re not sure how to start a conversation.
- You could rely on the classic, “So what do you do for a living?” – but then you run the risk of coming off as the least interesting or original person at the party.
- The following icebreakers should help you get an interesting conversation going with ease.
Maybe you’re interested in making a new professional contact, or perhaps you simply want to make a good impression on a friend of a friend.
Whatever the reason, busting out the clichés upon the first introduction is never a good idea.
To mix the conversation up a bit, try using one of these 23 icebreakers. They should help ease you into an engaging conversation with people you’ve never met before.
This one may seem simple, but a smile, a name, and a confident handshake can sometimes go a long way, Ariella Coombs wrote for Careerealism.com.
“Sometimes the easiest way to meet someone is to offer a handshake and say ‘hi,'” she wrote.
‘I’ll be honest, the only person I know here is the bartender, and I just met him two minutes ago. Mind if I introduce myself?’
Humor is a good method to put another attendee at ease and jump-start a lighthearted conversation.
‘What do you do for fun when you’re not working?’
Asking personal questions about people’s activities outside of work can help solidify a connection, Shan White, owner of Women’s Peak Performance Coaching, told Refinery29.
Asking about someone’s after-work hobbies is “semi-personal, yet still professionally acceptable to ask,” White said. “This can bring some levity and humor into the conversation while also letting you see what lights them up – what brings them real joy.”
‘Hey guys, do you mind if I join you just to eavesdrop?’
As Tim Ferriss, author of “The 4-Hour Workweek,” previously told Business Insider, his policy is: If two people are conversing at a networking event, then it’s rude to interrupt them – but if it’s a group of three or more, then you can politely ask to join the conversation using this approach.
Once you’ve been granted permission to listen in, standby until someone says something you don’t understand.
At that point, Ferris says you should ask: “Could you clarify that for me?” Someone will hopefully ask who you are, giving you a window to make your introduction, he explains.
‘How did you hear about this party?’
- flickr/Sarah Bradley
Asking someone how they learned about an event is a great way to begin a conversation, Babson College associate professor Keith Rollag told the Pittsburgh Better Times.
The response is likely to have interesting details for you to follow up and ask more about, and it’s a low-pressure way to begin a conversation.
‘Hmmm, I’m not quite sure what that dish is. Do you know?’
Rather than silently stand in line for snacks, take the opportunity to start a conversation about the topic on everyone’s mind: food.
Ask about the dish they think looks good, or the mystery dish, Coombs wrote. “Who knows, you might leave the buffet with a better plate of food AND a new contact.”
‘This is my first time at this conference. Do you know anything about…?’
Saying you’re new to a particular event and following up with a question is a great way to start a conversation, Rollag said.
“If the other person is also a first-timer, you can commiserate on the challenges of being new,” he told the Pittsburgh Better Times. “If they are a regular, you’ve just shown respect and deference to their experience and have put them in the role of teacher, which for most people makes them feel good, gives them purpose, and brings them energy.”
‘Hey, aren’t you friends with …?’
Even if you don’t really think you know this person, you can walk up to anyone and ask if they are friends with someone else who is at the event, wrote Jessica Gordon of The Daily Muse.
If they say no, feign a mild surprised reaction and conversation will commence.
‘Have any fun trips planned?’
- Svitlana Sokolova/Shutterstock
The holidays are a popular time for people to travel, and talking about plans is almost guaranteed to get the conversation going because most people have some idea of where they’d like to go, even if it’s in the distant future, and love to talk about it.
And if the details haven’t been hashed out yet, it’s easy for your conversation partner to say “No, but I’d love to go to …”
‘Are you from around here?’
- Drew Angerer / Getty Images
Asking a location-based question will help you jump-start an engaging conversation with ease because “it doesn’t feel like you are asking for a stiff elevator speech,” Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert and owner of The Protocol School of Texas, told US News and World Report.
The conversation will allow both parties to talk about themselves, which is the ultimate goal when starting a conversation.
‘Did you hear about …?’
- Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Be sure to scan the headlines the day of the party so you can ask for opinions about them, especially if the news affects someone’s line of work, wrote Levo League’s Meredith Lepore.
This topic will get a discussion going, and it will show that you keep up with current events. That’s a win-win, she said.
Of course, while misery may love company, there’s nothing worse for a first impression than a negative attitude.
‘Have you started watching …?’
If it’s the hottest new show on Netflix, odds are people have heard of it, and they may even be able to talk in detail with you about if they’re also avid fans.
If they haven’t watched yet, you could follow up by asking what shows they’ve been into lately. You’ll probably stumble upon something you have in common at some point.
‘Are you having problems with the Wi-Fi?’
- Sean Gallup/Getty Images
This is a quick way to commiserate with people who are also struggling with Wi-Fi, or hopefully get connected to the Internet while making a new connection.
“I always like to leverage the communal confusion that occurs at every event,” wrote Amanda Zantal-Wiener in HubSpot News. “When you first arrive, no one really knows what they’re doing. But anyone who does will jump at the chance to be ‘in the know.'”
- Getty Images/Justin Sullivan
If you genuinely like something someone is wearing, compliment them, Michelle Tillis Lederman, CEO of the professional-development firm Executive Essentials, told US News and World Report.
Not only will they be flattered, but you can also ask a follow-up question about where they got the item, which could lead to a fun conversation.
One caveat: Don’t fake it, Lederman said. People can easily sniff out disingenuousness.
‘Did you all come here together, or did you meet here?’
- Egor Slizyak/Strelka/Flickr
If there’s a group you want to approach, this is one way to break into the conversation.
“It also opens up the conversation to everyone in the group, instead of limiting it to the people sitting right next to you,” wrote Zantal-Wiener in HubSpot News. “And the more people chatting, the better – it’s another opportunity for you to learn about everyone’s goals and exchange ideas.”
‘Man, this party’s getting intense. Mind if I join you over here where it’s a little quieter?’
Find someone on the outskirts of the ongoing conversations and introduce yourself, said Coombs.
Since they are alone and possibly looking miserable, they are probably uncomfortable with the social situation, Coombs said. By initiating the interaction, you can help to put them at ease and get them into the flow of a conversation.
‘What did you think of this …?’
Conversations flow around common experiences, so Lederman said to bring up the one thing you know you both have in common: What’s going on around you.
Asking about the party, the group discussion, or even the restaurants around the area will give you both a chance to contribute to the conversation.
‘Would you have any insight or advice on …?’
- University of Exeter/flickr
Letting people use their expertise to help you will make them feel good and be more open to connecting with you, Lederman told CareerBliss.
You can ask about anything, from a work project to their opinion on which new car you should buy. Just be sure to genuinely listen and reflect on their advice, Lederman said. As the old saying goes, we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.
‘I’m tired of talking to my friends — I see them all the time. What are you guys talking about?’
This is another way to break into a group that seems interesting.
“It’s a line that’s effective in a number of scenarios, because it’s most likely true,” wrote Zantal-Wiener in HubSpot News. “It shows an interest in getting to know the folks who are there.”
‘What’s your reality-TV guilty pleasure?’
- YouTube/Trendy updates
Almost everyone watches at least one show that they’re at least a little embarrassed about, ZinePak cofounder Brittany Hodak told Inc., and she said that sharing those guilty pleasures with a stranger is fun.
“It’s funny how quickly you can bond with someone who admits to sharing your secret obsession,” Hodak said.
‘What’s your favorite part about what you do?’
If you still really want to find out what the person you’re talking to does for a living, you could try spinning the question by asking what your conversation partner loves about their job or what’s the most memorable thing that’s happened at their job.
This also has the added benefit of keeping the conversation positive, which will leave people with a more positive impression of you.
‘Well, you guys are certainly having more fun than the last group I was talking to’
If all else fails, try something totally random that just might work, wrote the editors at The Daily Muse, like inserting yourself into an engaging conversation by commenting on how fun their group looks from the outside.
‘Well, while we’re here, I might as well introduce myself’
Zantal-Wiener recommended using this icebreaker if you’re waiting in a long line.
“As the least patient person on the planet, I can attest to the effectiveness of using that time to do something other than focusing on how slowly the line is moving,” Zantal-Wiener wrote. “Put that energy toward something productive, like meeting the people around you.”
Natalie Walters contributed to an earlier version of this article.