Get More Out of “Small Talk” with Generative Questions

Get More Out of “Small Talk” with Generative Questions

Why waste your time with small talk when there are genuine human connections to be made with people who may have fascinating lives? Opening with generative questions can pave the way for further conversation and meaningful engagement instead of just idle chit-chat.

To set the stage for success, prepare yourself. Create an open mindset. Be curious about who is in the room. What if someone in the room has the information, influence, or connections you need right now to make something happen? What if you’re in a position to support a project that can really make a difference in the community or in someone’s life? There is always something of value: go on a treasure hunt in your conversations to find it!

Here are some small talk starters that promise the opportunity to build connection or broaden and deepen into a meaningful conversation.

  • What brings you to this gathering?

-Imagine you’re on your way home after this event and you are really glad you came. What could happen that would leave you with that experience?

  • What makes you come alive?
  • I have this hypothesis that any encounter has potentialI might have just the connection or piece of information you need, or vice versa. Are you game to explore with me where our potential synergy lies? If you get an affirmative response, here are some lines to explore:

-What’s the biggest obstacle in your way of achieving success right now? What do you need to overcome it?

-If you had three wishes to support your work, what would they be?

-Who do you most want to meet or talk with? (look for 3 degrees of separation)

-I’m working on ___________. What are your thoughts? What ideas do you have? Who should I talk with? Follow up by asking them to introduce you. Then reciprocate.

  • How do you know the hosts, or what is your connection to them? Tell me a story about a best experience you’ve had with them.

-Seek common connections.

-Share your own connection.

  • Be observant. Notice something about the person that is intriguing, curious, or likely to have a story behind it. Here are a couple of examples:

-What an unusual necklace. Is there a story behind it?

-What’s the symbol on your t-shirt about?

-You seem to connect very easily with children. What’s your secret?

-What your secret to being so at ease in settings like this?

  • You can open with, “What’s your favorite topic of conversation and why?” Then encourage that conversation.

Gatherings where small talk occurs are often great places for discovering interesting stories about people, as well as connecting with others in meaningful and important ways. Use your innate curiosity to develop powerful questions that turn small talk into conversations worth having!

About Cheri Torres:

Cheri Torres, Ph.D. brings the practice of Appreciative Inquiry, design thinking, and an ecological worldview to communities and organizations striving for sustainable growth. She has trained thousands of trainers and teachers in the use and practice of Appreciative Inquiry and Experiential Learning, with a particular focus on leadership development, teamwork, creativity, and sustainable collaboration. She has authored or co-authored numerous books and articles, the newest of which is Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement co-authored with Jackie Stavros.


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