There's nothing worse than getting stuck in conversation with someone and only have the weather to talk about. Sometimes small talk is necessary, but most of the time it's painful and inauthentic. To prevent this awkwardness, you'll instead want to rely on some interesting conversation starters that can help you avoid small talk. When you don't know someone, it's hard to find an appropriate topic of discussion, but there are a number of talking points that can get a conversation rolling with just about anyone.
"You never know when you might meet someone new at a business networking, social event, or just a family dinner," says communications expert Justin Lavelle over email. "Conversation is a key component to human interaction, and it can make or break an event. Most of us are a bit apprehensive when it comes to striking up a conversation with strangers beyond just the basic hello and 'Nice weather we are having" moments. However, if you can learn to engage people and really get them talking, your experience at different events will change dramatically and usually for the better."
To better connect with the person you're talking to and to avoid wanting to pull your hair out during a conversation, consider using one of these seven conversation starters next time you want to avoid small talk.
1Ask About A Recent Memorable Event
Ask the person if they've had a recent memorable event. "I like asking about favorites or bests," says marketing and public relations specialist Naomi Galimidi over email. "For example, I might ask, 'What was a summer highlight this year?' or 'Did you discover anything new this summer?' In professional situations, the approach is similar." If you are in a more professional setting, you can ask about a recent enjoyable work event or project.
2Make A Joke
Have a couple of jokes you keep on hand for moments where you need to connect with someone. "Making someone genuinely laugh can create a bonding moment that will open up an easy avenue to explore more interesting conversation topics," says Lavelle.
3Discuss Something You Have In Common
It's hard to know what you will have in common with a stranger, but you can use context cues from the event or your location to try to find mutual interests. "If you can find out some common trait, this can be a great way to start a conversation," says Lavelle. "For instance if you are at a music venue or travel expo, it is probably a safe bet that the person has those interests. Ask a question about favorite artists or the most exotic place the person has traveled."
4Give A Compliment
"Everyone loves a compliment but stay away from compliments that are to personal such as looks or eyes," says Lavelle. "Compliment an accessory or item of clothing." Look for something you genuinely like, and ask questions to keep the conversation from getting stuck.
5Bring Up A Ted Talk
TED Talks tend to discuss issues that are relevant to most people, so have a favorite talk or two you can bring up in conversation. Not sure where to begin? Check out this list of the most popular TED talks of all time.
6Ask How They Got Here
Ask the other person, "How did you find yourself here?" "This one has a double meaning, so the person can answer either one," says founder of Transizion, a college prep company, over email. "One, you could be referring to the event you're at, whether it's a party, networking event, or another activity. Two, in a deeper sense, it could refer to the person's life: "How did you get to where you are now? Why did you move here? Why are you on your current career path?"
7Dive Into Their Career
Asking someone what they do for a living is a common go-to for conversation, but that doesn't always tell the whole story. Take the conversation a step further, and ask more about their feelings about their work. "Ask, 'Do you like it there?'" says business mentor Pooja Krishna over email. "Most people will not only answer that, but also tell you why, which can take the conversation forward easily. If you already have the info about the person, start with 'I believe that you like meditation' or 'I read that your company just hosted a great event.'"