We’ve all been there. Maybe it’s a work function, or a family reunion, or a party with people we don’t know that well. And there a palpable feeling that somebody needs to say something, but no one knows how to start it off. Good news: there are simple conversation starters for every occasion that can put everyone at ease. So relax.

First off, let’s get one thing clear: not every occasion demands a conversation. Sitting on a plane next to strangers. In a crowded elevator. On the subway. Sometimes silence is perfectly fine, maybe even preferable—even though the silences seems awkward to you.

Situations in which a conversation starter is useful tend to be those in which talking to people is the whole point of why you are there. A business networking event, for instance. Or a meet-up for people with a shared interest, or a family picnic. These are times when having a few convo catalysts might be necessary. And remember the power of asking questions to kick things off: you learn something about another person, you don’t come across like a self-centered jerk, and it gives you time to think of when it’s your turn to talk.

Here are a few of our favorites situations and starters.

On a first date

  • Have you been here before?
  • What’s your favorite type of food?
  • Where did you get those shoes?
  • Do you like to travel?
  • Where did you grow up?
  • What’s the last great movie you saw?
  • How many students were in your graduating class?
Conversation Starters for Every Occasion

At a political event

  • Can you believe what [INSERT OPPOSING POLITICIAN’S NAME] said this time?!
  • How long have you been active in this group?
  • Got any cool political buttons?
  • Any travel plans?

At a work function, with people you don’t know very well

  • What do you do?
  • What department are you in?
  • How long have you been with the company?
  • What did you do before joining the company?
  • What do you think about our website? Is it time for a re-fresh, or is it just me?
  • Have you seen [INSERT NON-CONTROVERSIAL MOVIE OR TV SHOW]?
  • Any travel plans?

Meeting the in-laws

  • Can you believe this weather we’re having?
  • Do you follow hockey/baseball/football/figure skating/marathon running/etc.?
  • How long have you lived here?
  • Tell me about my spouse—what were they like as a kid?
  • Any family secrets I should know about—just kidding! But seriously, are there any?
  • Any travel plans?

Professional conference or seminar

  • What company do you work for?
  • What industry are you in?
  • What do you do?
  • What’s the biggest challenge of your job?
  • What would you like to do next in your career?
  • What about this event are you most excited about?
  • Who are the people doing really interesting work in your field?

Entertaining your nieces or nephews under 12 years old or thereabouts

  • What grade are you in?
  • What’s your teacher like?
  • Read any good books lately?
  • What’s your favorite subject?
  • Do you have any pets?
  • Do you play any sports?
  • Who’s your favorite Harry Potter character?

At any event with food or punch or wine

  • What type of wine are you drinking?
  • How do you like it?
  • Do you have a favorite type of wine?
  • (Pointing at their plate) What kind of fruit is that? Really?! I never would have guessed that. Thanks for teaching me something today.
  • What’s your dream buffet dish?
  • Any travel plans?

What are your favorite conversations starter? Let us know what’s your best opening line is in the comments below.

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