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209 Awesome Business Conversation Starters for any Setting

209 Awesome Business Conversation Starters for any Setting

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Starting conversations in business settings is an important part of professional networking, but it can be difficult to know how to get the ball rolling. 

Whether you are attending a company dinner, standing around waiting for a business meeting to start, or speaking to new work colleagues around the office, you might find yourself at a loss for words. 

The key to starting an engaging conversation in a business setting is knowing how to break the ice. 

Sometimes, it is a good idea to put your colleagues, clients, or collaborators at ease by engaging in small talk.

Other times, it is better to talk shop right away and open a conversation with hard-hitting business questions. 

The best way to start a conversation in a corporate setting depends on the context.

This article offers a comprehensive overview of the best opening lines to get people talking in a wide variety of professional situations. 


Conversation starters for business meetings

You will mostly use conversation starters for business meetings before the actual meeting begins.

In advance of most business meetings, the participants greet each other and engage in brief friendly conversation before getting down to business. 

These conversations might happen in the lobby of the building where the meeting room is, in the elevator on the way up to a conference room, or in the room itself before the formalities start.

Business meetings have agendas, which means that as soon as a meeting gets underway, you’ll be talking through the points on a proscribed agenda. 

However, in addition to the times before the meeting starts, there will likely also be a break, or a few minutes after the meeting concludes before you part ways, where it will be crucial to engage in organic conversation with the other attendees. 

If your meeting is taking place at the end of the week, you can even just wish someone a good upcoming weekend and ask them if they have any plans for it. 

Here are some great opening lines to break any awkward silences before business meetings: 

  1. Are you working on anything exciting at the moment?
  2. What do you think of the venue? 
  3. How long have you been working in the field?
  4. How long did you have to travel to get here today? 
  5. How do you think the meeting will go today?
  6. Have you spent much time in [city/town where the meeting is]?
  7. Hi, I thought I would introduce myself; I am [Name] and I work for [Company]. 
  8. I enjoyed your presentation at the event last week. 
  9. Did you watch the [local sports game] last [night/week]?
  10. Is there anything I should know before this meeting gets underway?
  11. Have you been involved in the venture long? 
  12. Have you reviewed the agenda points of this meeting? 
  13. Do you anticipate us reaching a conclusion on [the subject of the meeting] today? 
  14. So, what do you do when you aren’t wearing a suit and meeting with people like me?
  15. Did you have any trouble finding the place?
  16. Can I get you anything before we get started?


Conversation starters for a business launch 

Business launches are key networking events. Whether you are speaking to an executive of the company being launched, or you are personally involved in the new operation and are talking to a potential investor, choosing the right icebreaker is crucial. 

How you choose to approach someone to strike up a conversation at a business launch depends on a few key factors. 

Most importantly, what you should say depends on whether you know the person you are addressing (or at least know you they are). 

You might have a specific agenda, such as suggesting a potential professional collaboration. Or you might just be trying to get to know everyone attending the launch. In either case, you can assume that a friendly and professional opening line is most appropriate. 

If your goal is to get to know someone on a personal level, you can start by asking them a question about themselves that relates to the business of the company being launched. 

For example, if you are attending the launch of a music software company, you can ask the person you’re speaking to whether they know how to play any musical instruments

Here are a series of excellent ways to get a conversation going at a business launch: 

  1. What brings you to today’s launch? 
  2. The weather couldn’t be [better/worse], could it? 
  3. Do you have plans for [the upcoming holiday]? 
  4. The big day has finally come! 
  5. How did you hear about the launch? 
  6. What do you think of the launch so far? 
  7. Have you tried out the [product/service]?
  8. Have you been involved with [launching company name] long? 
  9. What do you do? 
  10. Are you here in a professional capacity?
  11. Have you tried the party favors yet? 
  12. Have you thought about investing in [launching company name?]
  13. Do you know much about [launching company name]’s seed funding?
  14. What is your favorite thing about business launches?
  15. How many of these things do you think you have been to this year? 


Conversation starters for business dinners 

The phrase “business dinner” has a few different meanings. 

There are business dinners where company representative wine and dine current or potential clients. These are usually organized with the aim of getting the clients to sign a particular deal, or to entice them to spend more money on the company’s services. 

Then there are business dinners where all a company’s employees gather for a meal that has been paid for their employers. These often take place at significant times of year, for example, just before the winter holidays, just after everyone has set an out-of-office message

Whatever kind of business dinner is taking place, the setting is usually formal. However, no matter how fancy the silverware is, there is an expectation that not all the conversation will be focused on work. 

In fact, business dinners are often seen as social occasions that are a chance to get to know the people you work with outside of the conference room. 

If you’ve only ever spoken to a colleague or client about work matters, asking them a personal question might take some getting used to. Here are some ideal conversation starters to use at a business dinner: 

  1. This restaurant is excellent. Have you been here before? 
  2. I have heard a lot about your company’s important work. Would you mind if I pick your brain? 
  3. This is far better than meeting in a board room, don’t you think?
  4. I have followed your career closely over the years. Do you mind if I ask you about the philosophy behind your management style? 
  5. Do you have a favorite cuisine? 
  6. Do you have plans for the coming weekend? 
  7. How long have you been with [company name]?
  8. How long have you been interested in [subject of business dealings]?
  9. Do you have a favorite field in our area of industry?
  10. How did you end up working in the field? 
  11. What do you think about the recent developments in our area of industry?
  12. Do you have a preference in terms of what wine we order?
  13. Shall we get down to business? 
  14. Does anyone have any more social niceties they want to get out of the way before we talk shop?
  15. Shall we talk about why we’re really here? 
  16. It’s nice to see you outside of a meeting room for once! Tell me something about yourself that doesn’t have anything to do with spreadsheets and sales figures.


Conversation starters for business networking 

Business networking takes place in a wide variety of contexts. Essentially, any occasion that caters towards establishing professional connections can be considered a networking event. 

You will often be expected to network at drinks receptions that take place before a presentation or performance. 

You might also be expected to network at company dinners or at client lunches.

There are also events such as book fairs, career and trade fairs, conferences, or roundtable discussions about an issue in your field of industry. 

There might also just be local happy-hour events in corporate parts of your city that double as informal socializing and a time to make business connections. 

It is important to keep in mind that you don’t always have to ask a question to start a conversation in a business networking setting.

Often, just making a kind observation or giving someone a compliment will get the ball rolling. 

One way to start a conversation in a professional context is wish someone success in their new venture.

This will inspire them to start talking to you about their endeavor. 

When starting a conversation at a networking event, one great strategy is to get someone talking about something they’re passionate about.

From that point onward, the conversation should flow naturally. 

Whether you are talking to a rare book dealer from a foreign country about their stall at a publishing fair or are ordering a brew alongside a fellow banker, here are some questions you can use to get the conversation going: 

  1. How do you think our industry will change over the coming five years?
  2. Am I the only one who finds it uncomfortable to start conversations at these events?
  3. Have you tried the food here? 
  4. Who do you work for? 
  5. What brings you to this event? 
  6. Is there anything at this event that you would recommend I check out? 
  7. Do you have five minutes to listen to my elevator pitch?
  8. Do you have a minute to talk about your investment portfolio? 
  9. It’s my first time at an event like this. Do you have any advice for me?
  10. Do you consider yourself naturally entrepreneurial?
  11. What is your background in? 
  12. Would you describe yourself as a professional a risk taker or are you risk-averse?
  13. How has the last year been for you professionally?
  14. What is the project you are currently most excited about?
  15. What opportunities for multidisciplinary cooperation do you see at your company?
  16. Is your company looking for suppliers? 
  17. What industry are you in? 
  18. How did you end up working in your current position? 


Business Conversation starters for employees

If you are looking for conversation starters to use with your employees, look no further. Being in management can be an uncomfortable position when it comes to chatting informally with the people who work for you. 

After all, you know exactly how they feel. You used to be them! However, they might see you purely as a work superior, which makes them nervous around you. 

Most employees are wary of anyone with the power to hire and fire them. This is not a reflection on how much they like you…it is simply a fact of the modern workplace. 

To break the ice while still staying appropriate and professional, try asking them questions about their hobbies, their favorite coffee, or for feedback about the office environment. 

If you know them well enough and it feels natural to do so, you can also ask them about their personal life, including how their family members are doing. 

Showing that you remember the names of the important people in your employees’ lives will make them feel seen and appreciated. 

There are different types of managers, but employees generally like working for people who aren’t afraid to show their human side. 

Here is a list of questions you can use to strike up a conversation with an employee: 

  1. What do you like to do when you aren’t on the clock? 
  2. Do you have any plans to take a summer vacation?
  3. How are you settling in? 
  4. Have you met everyone around the office yet? 
  5. Is there anything you find confusing about the role?
  6. Are there are any areas you think management could improve on?
  7. Have you tried out the local coffee shops yet?
  8. What’s your go-to coffee order? 
  9. Now that you’re here, do you have any feedback about the hiring process? 
  10. We couldn’t be more blessed with the weather, could we?
  11. Are you from the city originally or did you move here? 
  12. What do you think of the office snacks? 
  13. Are you getting to grips with our software and internal drive?
  14. Do you have any feedback for me based on your first few weeks? 
  15. Is the job what you expected it to be? 
  16. I like your [work-related item]. Where did you get it? 
  17. How would you rate the onboarding process? 
  18. What made you decide to apply for this position?
  19. What’s the thing that has surprised you most about working here?  
  20. Are you more of a packed-lunch or a go-for-lunch person?


Business Conversation starters for executives

The executive roles in a company include the CEO, the COO, the CFO, the CTO, the CMO and the CHRO. Not sure what all of these titles mean? Let’s just say that the “C” in all of them stands for “Chief” …I think you get the point. 

These people have the power. They have achieved highly in their field and have secured themselves a high-paying position with a whopping amount of responsibility. 

Executives are often the people who respond to resignation letters and who are just generally responsible for employee oversight (even though they might delegate the day-to-day tasks involved with this to an HR department). 

Their high-ranking position often implies significant expertise and years of service in their professional field. For this reason, it is often well worth getting their input on a wide variety of issues, from management techniques to achieving work–life balance

If you get the chance to strike up a conversation with an executive at your company, don’t waste the opportunity on mundane small talk. You’ve found yourself in a position with a chance to learn more about how and why your place of work functions the way it does. 

To learn about the pathways to professional success, you can ask about the challenges an executive has faced, how they cope with stress, or what advice they would give their younger selves. 

Not sure how to phrase this? Here is a list of questions to ask to start a conversation with an executive:

  1. What do you think the most challenging parts of management are? 
  2. What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs? 
  3. Am I right in thinking that you are [name], the [position] at [company name]?
  4. What do you wish you had known before you launched your business? 
  5. How do you avoid burnout? 
  6. What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced, personally or professionally? 
  7. How have you grown from adversity? 
  8. What does making decisions that will affect other people teach you about community?
  9. What strategies should young business-minded professionals adopt in the early stages of their career? 
  10. How do your values affect the decisions you make in your professional life?
  11. Are you someone who makes a decision and goes with it, or do you ruminate about whether you have made the correct choices? 
  12. Has your life changed since you made the transition from being an employee to an employer? 
  13. Could I have a few minutes of your time to get your input on an investment opportunity?
  14. What do you think the effect of the technological optimization of the workplace over the last ten years has been on employees’ mental health? 
  15. What is your biggest professional pet peeve?
  16. Is there a professional decision you made that you would go back and change if you could?
  17. How do you think professional status impacts a person’s self-confidence? 
  18. How has the business world changed since you entered it [number] years ago?
  19. What do you attribute your success to? 
  20. What do you think the current biggest challenges facing business executives are? 


Business Conversation starters for conferences 

The most common types of conference are academic conferences and trade conferences. Academic conferences are one- or multi-day events where researchers gather to listen to each other present the findings of their recent work. 

Trade conferences are like academic conferences, except that instead of academics presenting research, industry executives present recently devised products and services.

Conferences of all types are notoriously important places for networking. When a large group of professionals from a single area of academia or industry gathers, there are bound to be important connections to be made. 

However, networking only works if you put the work in. You could be in a room with the 100 most important figures in your area of work or study, but if you don’t strike up a conversation with them, you might as well be in a room with 100 random people. 

The most important thing to keep in mind when trying to strike up a conversation at a conference or other networking event, is that you aren’t the only nervous one. 

In fact, most people feel slightly uncomfortable or unsure of themselves entering a room full of well-respected peers. And ultimately, everyone appreciates the confident person who chooses to break the silence and get the conversation going. 

Here are some great ways to break the ice and start a conversation at a conference: 

  1. Will you be presenting this year?
  2. What do you think about the conference theme?
  3. What is the most disruptive research paper you read this year?
  4. What area of research do you work in? 
  5. Is there a speaker you are particularly excited for?
  6. How do you think the conference is going so far? 
  7. Do you think there will much controversy at the conference this year?
  8. I read your recent paper on [subject]. I would love to discuss it with you sometime, if you could fit me in. 
  9. What brought you to this area of academia? 
  10. What is your position on [relevant issue]?
  11. Where are you working these days? 
  12. How do you think our field has changed over the last ten years?
  13. Have you ever been to [name of the conference venue] before? 
  14. How would you rate the food here so far? 
  15. How do you think this venue compares to the one last year? 
  16. Do you recognize many people here from last year’s conference? 
  17. Are there many other scholars from your university in attendance? 
  18. What do you think of the program this year? 
  19. Do you think there were any oversights in terms of who was asked to present this year? 
  20. Your work has been such an inspiration to me. Could I get you a drink and ask you a few questions about your recent research? 


Business Conversation Starters

Conversation starters for LinkedIn

If you have been following a person or company on LinkedIn for quite some time and are interested in their work, you may want to reach out to them via LinkedIn’s messaging function.

If you are an employer or headhunter looking for someone to hire and find a person on LinkedIn whose profile looks just right, you can reach out to them for a meeting and see how they respond to an interview request on LinkedIn

One of the top tips for aspiring entrepreneurs is to find a mentor and to build a strong network. 

This requires reaching out to established professionals in the field for guidance. However, as a young person starting out in business, it can be tricky to get your foot in the door with seasoned professionals. 

After all, when you are just starting out in business, you probably don’t have access to the same resources as high-flying executives, which means you aren’t likely to hang out in the same places. 

However, LinkedIn is a great way to connect with people who you wouldn’t necessarily have access to IRL. 

There is no harm in reaching out to an established professional whom you respect and asking whether you can take them out to lunch to get their input on an idea of yours. 

Here are some great ways to start a conversation over LinkedIn:  

  1. I am reaching out to see whether you would be interested in interviewing for the position of [job title] at [company name].
  2. Would you be interested in meeting for lunch or a coffee sometime? I would love to pick your brain about your approach to management. 
  3. Are you currently looking for employment?
  4. Are you the same [name] who worked with me at [company name] a few years ago? 
  5. Can I interest you in a possible collaboration? 
  6. I can see that you have extensive experience in [area of work]. I might have a job for you. 
  7. What area of industry will you be looking for employment in next? 
  8. Did you see [person or company name]’s latest post? 
  9. Do you have any suggestions for where to apply in [city] for a job in [industry name]?
  10. Do you have time to review a piece of work I did?
  11. I greatly admire everything you have achieved in your field. Could I take you out to lunch discuss your path to success? 
  12. Are you currently hiring [job position you want]?
  13. Do you have five minutes to hear my elevator pitch? I think I would be a perfect fit for your firm. 
  14. Have you ever considered working in [name of your industry sector]?
  15. Do you have any experience in [type of work you do]?
  16. I think I can make you an offer you can’t refuse. Give me a call?
  17. I have an interview at [name of company]. As a former employee, is there anything you think I should know in advance? 


Conversation starters for interviews 

Starting conversations at the beginning of an interview can be hard. After all, as an interviewer you want to make the candidates you are meeting with feel comfortable enough to put their best foot forwards. 

It is all too easy for a candidate to say, “I confirm my attendance to the interview.” The hard part only starts when they sit down in the seat in front of an interviewer. 

The best way to make an interviewee comfortable is often to engage them in small-talk before starting to ask harder-hitting questions. 

You can also begin the conversation in an interview setting by asking the applicant whether they would like a tea or coffee, or simply how they are feeling. 

Or if you would prefer to start talking shop right away, you can ask them whether there is anything they would like to say before you get started.

Offering them the opportunity to begin the interview on their terms is a good way to make them feel like you are genuinely interested in what they have to say. 

Here is a list of ideal conversation starters for interviews: 

  1. Did you have any trouble finding our office?  
  2. Before we get started, tell me something about you that will surprise me. 
  3. What is the first word your mother would use to describe you?
  4. Who is the person you look to for advice?
  5. Is there anything you’d like me to know before we begin? 
  6. Tell me in one minute why you are the best candidate for the position.
  7. Is the office what you expected it to be?
  8. Can you see yourself working here? 
  9. What drew you to our company? 
  10. Are you living in [name of the city/town] now? 
  11. Have you travelled anywhere interesting recently? 
  12. How are you feeling? 
  13. How have you found the application thus far? 
  14. How has your day been so far?
  15. Would you like a coffee or a tea? 
  16. Do you feel ready to get started?
  17. Do you have any questions for me before I introduce the role? 


Business Conversation starters for work teams 

If you manage a team, you will often have to start group conversations in a professional context.  

You might find yourself having to plan get-to-know-each-other teambuilding exercises, which require the members of your team or department to go around answering questions. 

Why is teambuilding so important? If people feel more comfortable with their colleagues, they tend to work together more effectively.  

You will likely also find yourself addressing the individual members of your team at one point or another.

For example, if you one of the employees you manage end up at the office coffee machine at the same time, you’ll want to engage them in small-talk.

You might also be a member of a new team at work and be trying to get to know your colleagues.

If so, you’ll want to learn more about them, which involves asking about their professional history, their family life, and their hobbies. 

When you are addressing the members of a team you manage or another member of a work team you are a part of, you can start conversations in a casual, yet professional tone. 

Here are some perfect conversation starters to use on members of your work team:  

  1. Where did you grow up?
  2. What role do you think you naturally assume in a team environment? 
  3. As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
  4. What is your favorite thing about the industry we work in? 
  5. What are your hobbies? 
  6. What would your death-row dinner be?
  7. What name would you give your workplace alter-ego?
  8. What is the most important lesson you learned this year?
  9. What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
  10. What does success mean to you?
  11. What do you find professionally fulfilling? 
  12. What kinds of situations cause you to feel stressed? 
  13. What do you do to relax? 
  14. What does self-care mean to you?  
  15. How do you make sure that you maintain a healthy work–life balance?
  16. If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you go? 
  17. How would you describe your communication style? 
  18. What do you think the best and worst parts about working as part of a team are?


Conversation starters for work colleagues 

When you are starting conversations with work colleagues, adopt a friendly and casual tone.

If you only stick to work talk and use formal language, your colleagues may find it difficult to connect with you and will perceive you as being stand-offish. 

The best approach to striking up a conversation with a colleague and work is to show a genuine interest in what their life is like outside of the office. 

Talking about non-work-related issues with the other employees at your company can either be easy and fun or terribly awkward, depending on how well you get along with them. 

Before getting to personal questions, try establishing good rapport.

This can involve anything from asking what they thought of a conference you both attended to simply asking how they are doing when you pass them in the hallway.

Once you have had a few small-talk conversations, you can delve a bit deeper by asking them questions like whether they have seen any good movies recently, or how many children they have. 

Avoid asking your colleagues ultra-personal questions about anything they might not want to talk about.

For example, if you know a colleague has recently gone through a break-up, the office is probably not an appropriate place to ask them about this. 

If you’re ever stuck, check out this list of excellent and appropriate conversation starters for colleagues: 

  1. How did you find that meeting? 
  2. What are you working on at the moment? 
  3. How has the last year at our company been for you?
  4. Do you have kids?
  5. Do you have dogs? 
  6. Are you a dog person or a cat person? 
  7. Do you have any vacations booked? 
  8. Would you like to grab lunch at that café downstairs one of these days? 
  9. What do you think of the coffee in the office? 
  10. Are you a coffee person or a tea person?
  11. Do you have any recommendations for places to get lunch around here?
  12. Have you read anything good lately? 
  13. How are you doing?
  14. How are things going with the [name of a project]?
  15. Could I get your two cents about this problem I’m working on? 
  16. What is your opinion about people eating fish in the office? 
  17. What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you at work? 


Conversation starters for work events 

When you are starting a conversation at a work event, you need to walk a fine line between taking a professional and an informal approach. 

Work events include everything from fundraisers to business dinners, company drinks to office parties, and trade shows to teambuilding workshops. 

You shouldn’t dive right in with a deep question about the meaning of life when you have just met a possible professional partner over canapes and prosecco. 

However, people often find small-talk boring and would rather engage in a conversation about something substantial. That said, there is a difference between an interesting conversation about a topic both people care about and an overly personal opening line. 

Take care that you do not offend anyone attending a work event by being too familiar or asking something inappropriate. 

When you aren’t sure what to ask to start a conversation at a work event, you can ask something about the schedule for the event, or even just ask the person you’re sitting next to how their day has been. 

Here are some perfect ways to start a conversation at a work event. 

  1. Is this what you were expecting when we got the invitation?
  2. Do you know who is giving the first speech? 
  3. Do you know what the program for this evening is? 
  4. Were you at this event last year? 
  5. Which department do you work in? 
  6. Three guesses as to what the dinner will be.
  7. I have a love–hate relationship with these events. How do you feel about them? 
  8. Sorry, I don’t think I’ve seen you around the office. Do you work for [company name]?
  9. How was your day? 
  10. Did you get up to anything good last weekend? 
  11. What do you think of the theme of this event? 
  12. How has this last quarter been for you? 
  13. Whom are you here with?
  14. How have you found the presentations so far? 
  15. Is [mutual acquaintance] here?