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How to Start Conversations and Connect with Others

Conversation Pieces as Conversation Starters


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		  Conversation Pieces as Conversation Starters   

 Conversation Piece, noun. Any object that arouses comment because of some striking quality. (Random House College Dictionary, 2000.)  An often overlooked conversation-starter is using an item that has “some striking quality.” The potentials for finding or creating such objects is actually quite vast, and they are virtually fail-safe in stimulating a “wow! effect.”   

For example, for some years I have been using an amber prescription bottle with directions for use and my contact information on the authentic-looking label I've created. Inside I put a small piece of paper with “prescriptions for good conversation” and some Tic-Tac mints. Although it takes me a few minutes to make up each bottle, the time is well spent when I exchange business cards with a person I meet at a conference or workshop. The exchange starts up a light-hearted conversation about how I created this unusual “card,” and it is music to my ears when they tell me -- several years later – that  “I still have your bottle on my desk.”     

When tipping service personnel – waiters, hair-cutters, bell-hops,  cabbies, I like to use crisp two-dollar bills. Whenever I run out,  $20 buys me another ten bills at my bank. These almost always get a “Wow!” response and trigger a friendly chat with that person, and I usually get great service from that point on. (Most people still believe that these bills are available only in special coin shops, but you can easily get them in any bank.)     

An unusual piece of clothing can also cause people to remark on it, friends and strangers alike. For men, an special necktie, or perhaps an unusual lapel button. For women, a monogrammed suit or other special touch will elicit comments. If you are in business, using such conversation pieces can be a low-keyed way of prospecting for potential customers you meet on trains and planes.     

I carry several types of business cards that contain valuable information, such as how to use emotional freedom tapping techniques to reduce stress and eliminate headaches. People almost  always ask “What's this about?”, and we quickly go into a lively  conversation about energy psychology and how to self-apply the  techniques found on my small folding card.     

Another effective idea is to give away samples of something special from your region. For example, when I lived in Hawaii, I carried small packets of salted macadamia nuts to give away when I travelled. They almost always evoked a friendly conversation about Hawaii. When I was teaching in Europe in 2000, I gave away shiny $1 Sacagawea coins, which delighted cousins and waiters alike as “something special from America.” (Many years ago I used to bring a few dozen fresh Hawaiian pineapples to the Mainland, but, even though they were a big hit, I eventually gave this up as too cumbersome.)     

A professional speaker friend carries a Polaroid camera, snaps photos of people at trade shows and conventions, then immediately presents them with a well-done photograph. That simple act is the “relationship wedge” to meet and chat with strangers, and the gesture is almost always well-received. As a follow-up, my friend then asks another person to take a photo or two including him and his new acquaintance, thus having a visual record of the person he'd just met.     

Of course, you can also add conversation pieces to your home or office, so that visitors will inquire about an artifact or gadget or work of art. Often the conversation that follows will help the other person know you better – your interests, hobbies, and tastes. And that makes such “conversation pieces” perfect as you create new relationships with others.    


Loren Ekroth ©2012, All rights reserved.

Loren Ekroth, Ph.D. is a specialist in human communication and a national expert on conversation for business and social life.

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