A conversation opener is an introduction used to begin a conversation. They are frequently the subject of guides and seminars on how to make friends and/or meet people. Different situations may call for different openers (e.g. approaching a stranger on the street versus meeting them at a more structured gathering of people with like interests).
An opener often takes the form of an open-ended question, which can lead to further comments or conversation as well as creating topics for future conversations (e.g. "How's your mandrill doing?").
A closed-ended question (e.g. "Nice weather today, isn't it?") is regarded as potentially less effective because it can be answered with a simple "Mm-hmm," which is essentially a conversational dead end, requiring the initiater of the conversation to start from scratch.
How to Start a Conversation notes that in conversation openers, "There really are only two topics to choose from – The situation [or] the other person. Secondly, there are only two ways to begin a conversation: State a fact [or] ask a question/opinion". Accordingly, openers are often linked to props, e.g. "Do you have a cigarette?" "Wow, you're reading Crime and Punishment, that's one of my favorite books..." "I like your skirt, where did you get it?" etc. Many venues, such as singles tennis events, etc. are geared toward prop-based conversation openers. Some people keep conversation pieces for this purpose.
Judy Ringer's We Have to Talk: A Step-By-Step Checklist for Difficult Conversations points out that an entirely different set of openers may be used for sensitive conversations, e.g. about employee performance, in which a main goal may be to avoid putting the person on the defensive. These openers often take the form of I statements, e.g. "I have something I’d like to discuss with you that I think will help us work together more effectively".
Conversation openers in sales settings
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In sales settings, conversation openers often are used to probe the subject for information. Topic chosen are on 'safe ground' like 'the weather' or 'how was your journey to get here'. This information can then be used in attempts to counter objections.
This type of conversation opener is often referred to as small talk and is used to make both people in a conversation feel comfortable. The book Get Noticed by Marcus A Taylor and Rob Lawrence explains how mastering the art of small talk involves active listening, being up to date with current affairs as well as identifying common interests to develop the conversation.
- Media College: Open-Ended Questions
- Persuasion Skills Ltd: How to Start a Conversation
- We Have to Talk: A Step-By-Step Checklist for Difficult Conversations by Judy Ringer
- Sales Feature Article "Conversation Openers" by Scott Peck
- Get Noticed Get Noticed' by Marcus A Taylor and Rob Lawrence