Have you ever gotten stumped during a networking event or an average day in the office with a co-worker and not know what to say? Want to make small talk with the barista at your local coffee shop or even your neighbor that you see every morning but struggle with the right words? Here are four tips from local female professionals on figuring out the best way to get a great conversation started in any and all situations.

Take a professional approach

Lashundra Hicks, Director of Human Resources, a leading hotel and asset management company

Maybe it is Hicks’ professional prowess but her go-to question is, “So what is it that you do?”

She feels that this question can lead to various conversations — and sometimes a job.

“I have seen someone in the middle of working, doing a great job, stocking shelves, etc., and have asked if they were looking for a part-time job,” she said.  

She also suggests being genuine and giving compliments.

“Be genuinely interested in the person you are attempting to strike up a conversation with,” Hicks said. 

She also likes to give compliments that lead to talking further with someone, like, “I love your shoes, where did you get them?”

Find a common denominator

Katie McKiever, Social Media Manager at Carolinas HealthCare System, has a knack for finding the common denominator and going from there. For example, are you in an office building’s elevator together? Ask, “Which company are you with?”

We can all default to the weather but McKiever said to use this topic as a last resort.

“Talking about how cold it is outside is too easy and boring and it’s difficult to continue a conversation from there,” she said. “If you must discuss weather, dig a little deeper and ask things like, ‘Do you like to ski?’ Or ‘Do you have any pets? How do they do in this weather?'”

Get personal

Connie Whitener, an attorney with CM Whitener Law, believes asking a personal question is a great way to gab.

“This is often my go-to when speaking with someone in the service industry,” she said. “I genuinely want to know how their day is going, as I know how exhausting it can be, and how unappreciated they often are. Whether a waiter, barista or whomever, I ask how they are and if they’ve worked too hard that day.”

Secondly, she feels that a smile and paying a compliment goes a long way. “This typically works in social settings when you meet people for the first time,” she said.

Follow up

Deborah Knupp,  Managing Director for GrowthPlay, helps professionals rethink relationship-building to increase sales and organizational effectiveness and believes that starting a conversation is as important as the follow-up.

“In networking, the biggest challenge is often not the first encounter or meeting, but the follow-up required to make the networking efforts work,” she said. 

“With follow-up, there is also a fine line between staying connected and stalking. To ensure you connect, you need a welcomed and authentic reason (as measured by the recipient) for why you are connecting.”

Knupp calls these “ins” and says they are easy ways to offer something valuable to someone else. Below is the breakdown of the three ins:
– Is there someone you can introduce to them that would be beneficial?
– Is there information you can send them about their industry or competitors they care about?
– Is there something you can invite them to that would be beneficial?

With these tips, Knupp said, “They’re a simple way to start a great conversation with anyone, no matter the event.”

Photo: Bruno and Ingo

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