Every customer relationship starts somewhere. Classic "in person" questions like “so, what do you do?” rarely lead to memorable conversations that can get the small business leaders noticed. Some awkward questions can even lead to making a bad first impression that ends the relationship even before it starts.
Here are 7 conversation starters you should avoid and what to say instead:
1. “Did you hit heavy traffic on the way here?”
Talking about traffic does not put anyone in a good mood. The lesson here is to not just ask any question. Put some effort into thinking about ones that will start a meaningful conversation that will give a relationship a chance.
Instead try: “What inspired you to come here?” Find out what they are hoping to get out of the event. Maybe you can help each other out right now!
2. “Where do you live?”
This question can be too personal when initially meeting.
Instead try: “Where are you from originally?” followed by “What was your favorite part about growing up there?” This gets them to start sharing immediately on a deeper level which builds the relationship.
3. “How about this weather lately? So much (snow, rain, heat) right?”
It doesn’t get any more cliché than this. You don’t want someone thinking “Wow, really? That’s all you’ve got?” This sounds like elevator talk.
Instead try: “What are you most excited about for the (Spring, Summer)?” Put a twist on the weather question by using it to learn more about someone. This question gives them a chance to talk about upcoming events they’re attending or their favorite hobbies outside of work.
4. “How boring is this (speaker, event, job)?”
Complaining about anything and negativity in general absolutely ruins a first impression. Even if your statements are valid (and they are thinking the same thing), never start a relationship over a negative. Keep the tone positive.
Instead try: “What have you found most helpful in the (speaker’s presentation, the event, the job)?” Asking people to reflect on what they have just heard or experienced and how it will help their business gives insight.
5. “I am looking to try a new diet. Do you know of any good ones?”
Generally, health topics will make people feel uncomfortable. They make think you are making a statement about their weight or appearance which is dangerous.
Instead try: “I’m looking for a new book to read. What business books have you read lately?” This is a great go-to question for someone without getting too personal.
6. “Did you hear about that guy who went to jail for ___?”
Just like health topics, creepy topics (criminals, for example) can make people really uncomfortable or can lead to a discussion about politics! (always a topic to avoid).
Instead try: “Did you see what happened on the last episode of ___?” Television series and pop culture topics are usually a safer bet! Figure out a show you both watch and share what you think about its latest developments.
7. “I can't seem to get anything done. I feel like I don’t have five minutes for myself. Do you feel that way?”
Don’t make people think of their long to-do lists back at the office. Connect in the moment.
Instead try: “I’m planning to a vacation soon. Do you have any fun trips coming up soon?” Most people have a trip on the horizon or will at least enjoy talking about the last one they took. Ask for recommendations for places to travel!
What is your best conversation starter?
Barry Moltz helps small businesses get unstuck. He applies simple, strategic steps to facilitate change.
Barry has founded and run small businesses with a great deal of success and failure for more than 20 years. He is a small business speaker, radio host and author of four books. As a member of the Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame, he has spoken to audiences of up to 20,000 people. He is a regular guest on business radio and cable TV programming.