“What’s a good conversation starter?”

Q: What are good conversation starters? After you approach someone and say you want to get to know them, what are good starting points?

Georgie: Okay, so I have to admit, I’m REALLY good at having awkward conversations. The worst ones are with people I meet in the lift in my apartment. I’m standing there and then the elevator stops at another floor and I’m thinking ‘Oh no…’ And then someone gets in and they smile at me, and suddenly I have no idea what to say.

‘How about this weather?’ doesn’t cut it when you’re in a lift, right? I usually and up trying for something creative, such as ‘Wow, have you noticed it’s snake season right now? Better watch out when you walk down by the river!’

Such utterances often make my neighbours retreat and avoid eye contact.

Being on a date can leave us feeling similarly trapped and stressed out. We want to make a good impression, but how do we start? And if we start talking about snakes, is the other person going to back away slowly? (Spoiler: probably.)

Bad advice #1: Memorising opening lines

Standard pick-up advice often focuses on what lines to start with (called ‘openers’). Some folks memorise these lines and try them all out on different people, in the hopes something will work.

I don’t think using the same lines (or conversation topics) over and over is helpful, because everyone’s different. You’re going to want to start the conversation that suits both of you – and depending on who you are and who they are, it could be anything from a polite comment about the weather to an intense discussion of astrophysics.

Using pre-determined lines can make you feel fake (and you might sound fake, too. Not ideal.)

Bad advice #2: Talking about yourself

Sometimes we try to avoid awkward silences by talking about ourselves non-stop. It’s easier to talk than to try to get someone else to talk, right? But I find people that talk about themselves continuously really boring, even if they’re witty and charming. Conversation is give-and-take; there needs to be room for everyone to contribute.

If you talk constantly and don’t ask your date anything about themselves, you’re also missing out on the chance to learn more about them. The process of connection – really getting to know someone – doesn’t happen until you slow down and start listening.

So…what DOES work?

I’ve found that the best conversations happen when I’m genuinely curious about the other person. I’ll take a look at them and think ‘What do I really want to know right now?’

Taking a genuine interest means being curious – about their life, hobbies, aspirations, and how they’re feeling. It’s not a sexual thing, It’s about seeing my dates as interesting human beings. If all my thoughts or questions are sexual, it’s sometimes a sign that I’ve forgotten to see the whole person (and I’m thinking more about what I want from them, which isn’t a good way to start.)

When I’m talking to someone new, I ask open questions. Open questions are ones that have long, complicated answers, such as, ‘How do you feel about what you do for a living?’ or ‘Tell me something good that happened to you this week.’ Open questions encourage people to talk about themselves in more detail than just the superficial. A good open question can start a conversation that goes for hours.

Sometimes I’ll even make a game out of it. I’ll ask, ‘Can we play a few rounds of Q&A?’ Here’s how it works…

How to play Q&A

Question and Answer (Q&A) is a game I learned from Curious Creatures, a provider of self-development workshops in Australia. It’s a turn-based game that involves asking interesting questions and listening to the answers. It goes something like:

Player One: Asks an open question, eg, “Tell me about one thing in life you couldn’t do without.”

Player Two: Answers the question, “I need music. Wiihout that, I just don’t think I’d enjoy anything as much. I’m always listening to something no matter what, it’s like having a soundtrack to my life. How about you?”

Player One: Answers their own question, “Well, I guess I can’t live without my friends. They’re the only people that really understand me, and they’re always around whenever I’m having a hard time.”

Player Two: Asks a new question, eg, “If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you go? And why?”

And so on…

Q&A is effective for connecting with new people, because it takes us beyond superficial conversation and lets us share deeper truths about ourselves. Since building connection with someone is all about focusing on them and understanding them, it’s a great way to become closer to your date.

“What are some good questions I could ask?”

The questions you ask depend on the person, the situation, and how you’re both feeling at the time. You might want to start light and friendly, or start a more personal conversation, depending on the mood. There’s no one-size-fits-all, as I said above.

If you’re really stuck for ideas, below is a list of my favourite questions to ask on dates. These might be a good starting point.

No matter what happens, it’s always okay to say ‘pass’ on any question you’re uncomfortable with. And don’t forget to listen to your date’s answers and stay interested…if you’re not taking a genuine interest, they’ll be able to tell! This stuff doesn’t work unless we make an effort to get to know our partners as the incredible people they are.

Below are a list of some of my favourite first-date questions. I hope they give you a starting point…but don’t be afraid of making it up as you go along! Finding the right question to ask is all about feeling into the vibe, and trying to guess what your partner is going to enjoy talking about.

Entry-level questions

(Perfect for someone you’ve just met.)

  • What’s the best thing that’s happened to you this week?
  • Tell me about one of your favourite hobbies.
  • What do you do? But answer without talking about your job; what do you do, generally?
  • Tell me about the last (non-human) animal you met, and what they were like.
  • How was your day? But you can only tell me in three words.
  • What’s something you’re looking forward to?
  • If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?

Deeper questions

(To get us talking about more personal stuff)

  • What gets you out of bed in the morning?
  • If you could only be good at one thing, what would it be? Why?
  • What do people often assume about you, that isn’t true?
  • Tell me about the last thing you did, that you’re proud of.
  • If you could change something about yourself, what would it be?
  • What’s your real-life superpower?
  • Tell me about the last dream you remember having.
  • Tell me the story of your last awkward date.
  • What’s something you love to hate?
  • What’s something you’ve always wanted to do? Why haven’t you done it yet?

Questions for getting flirty

(Always ask first: “Do you mind if I ask some stuff that’s a bit more personal?”)

  • What do you look for in a partner?
  • What’s the body part you find most attractive on a person?
  • What’s a personality trait that you find really attractive? Why?
  • What are your dealbreakers, when it comes to relationships?
  • What are your dealbreakers, when it comes to sex?

Challenging questions

(Handle with care! Ask first: “Are you ready for a hard question?” Make it clear that a ‘pass’ is always welcome.)

  • Tell me about the last time you cried.
  • What do you need right now, in life, to feel happy?
  • What’s missing from your life right now?
  • If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? Why?
  • Tell me about a difficult conversation that you need to have with someone in your life, but haven’t yet.
  • What’s your opinion of me, based on the conversation we’ve had so far?

Can Q&A replace a regular conversation?

Q&A isn’t a substitute for regular conversation – it’s just a way to get things started. Once you discover topics you’re both interested in, it gives you common ground and allows you to pursue deeper and more personal topics.

I love following up on my date’s answers by asking more questions. When we both end up sidetracked by an interesting fork in the discussion, it’s a sign we’ve found something we both really want to talk about.

It’s a great starting point for me. And I hope it can help you out too, next time you’re lost for words!

Want to practice playing Q&A online with a group of like-minded folks? Curious Creatures runs video sessions weekly.

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