Speaking In Conversation
General ways to start a conversation
If you're meeting someone for the first time, you can always start the conversation by introducing yourself. This especially applies to more formal business situations:
"Hey, my name's Adam. Nice to meet you..."
"Hey, what's your name? ... Cool, I'm James."
"Hi. I'm Amy from (some company)."
Ask the person how they ended up in the situation you're all in
This mainly applies to new people, but you could also use it to start a conversation with someone you've chatted to briefly a few times before, but you haven't asked this information of them yet. Examples:
"How long have you been playing on this team?"
"How do you know everyone else at the party?"
"How long have you been working here?"
"What brought you guys out to this bar tonight?"
(At a business convention) "What company are you from?"
(At a games night at a hobby store) "How long have you been playing War hammer?"
Comment on the situation
"This is a pretty sweet party."
"Man, there are a ton of customers in here today."
"This class was pretty interesting, huh?"
"The last time I was at this bar there were a bunch of rowdy Engineering freshmen here on a pub crawl."
"Wow, it's so hot out today. I checked the temperature online and it's 37 degrees (Celsius) with the humidity." (The weather is kind of an all-encompassing situation everyone finds themselves in).
Ask a question about the situation
Sometimes you'll actually have a question about the situation you're in, and it's only natural to use it to start talking to someone. Though I think of all the ways to start a conversation, this is the one where people will 'white lie' the most. They aren't really dying to know the answer to something and are just using the question as an excuse to talk.
Some people feel they have to use this type of conversation starter, because it seems more spontaneous and natural, or doesn't put them on the line for rejection as much because they have the face-saving explanation that they really were trying to find something out. In general though, when you're just chatting to people for friendly reasons, it's perfectly fine to start a conversation more directly.
"Do you know what the sauce is with those hors d'oeuvres?"
"I missed the first class. Did the prof hand out a course outline?"
"Do you know when we need to be back from break?"
(at a bar) "Do you know when this place closes?"
(at a club) "What's the name of the song that's playing?"
Make a statement about the other person
An observation about someone can get a conversation going. Compliments would also fall into this category.
"You look like you're in a good mood today."
"Are you into (some type of music)? I get a sense you might be."
"I like your hat. Where did you get it?"
(To the host of a party) "Wow, you've got a wicked movie collection." Question
"Have you seen (new popular movie)? What did you think of it?"
"What do you think of (the latest development on a popular TV show)?"
"You went to that concert last night, right? How was it?"
"Did you read that article yesterday about....? Statement examples:
"I'm thinking of seeing (new popular movie). I saw the trailer for it. It looks awesome, etc, etc."
"So I heard (something happened on a popular TV show). I think it's crazy that (character) is doing that now, etc., etc.
"I wish I had seen the concert last night. I love that band. I heard that on this tour they're..."
"I read a really interesting article the other day. It was saying that...."
Saying "Hello" or "Hey" or
"What's up?" or "How's it going?"
Even though this is a really common way to get a conversation rolling, and it often works just fine, I put it further down the list because it has the most potential to cause the interaction to fizzle out. Saying, "What's up?" or "How's it going?" is notorious for often getting back a "Fine" or a "Good, you?" in response, and then an awkward silence settling in. I find using a "What's up?" type greeting works in the following circumstances:
You're using it simply to get the conversation opened up, and you've got some follow-up statements prepared.
The person looks friendly and like they want to talk to you. You get a sense that if you begin with "Hey" or "What's up?" that they'll take the ball and say something substantive back.
You're both not rushing somewhere else. It's clear that you can both stick around and talk to each other. For example, if you catch a co-worker as they're walking out of the break room, they may take your "Hey, what's up?" simply as a greeting. However, if they're sitting down at a table, and you join them and say, "What's up?" that sends the message that you want to have an actual conversation.
A turn is the time when a speaker is talking and turn-taking is the skill of knowing when to start and finish a turn in a conversation. It is an important organizational tool in spoken discourse.
One way that speakers signal a finished turn is to drop the pitch or volume of their voice at the end of an utterance. There are many ways that speakers manage turn-taking and they vary in different cultures. Areas that can be considered in language teaching include pronunciation, e.g. intonation, grammatical structures, utterances such as 'ah', 'mm' and 'you know', body language and gestures.
Closing the conversation:
Useful, civil phrases to remember:
I'm afraid I've lost track of the time.
I promised I'd meet my (insert significant other's name or relationship); gotta run.
I don't want to keep you.
This was fun but I'm running late.
I wish we could talk some more but I have to go.
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