Asking interesting questions can be an excellent ice breaker as well as an efficient way to learn more about others. Unlike the stale “What do you do?” type of small talk, interesting questions get more specific and drive engagement and interest. “Regardless of your personality type, there are several things we must do to have the kind of captivating conversations that will attract others to our social circle,” writes Marcel Schwantes for Inc. He highlights five questions to ask that differ from the norm, as well as small behaviors to avoid that lend to less-than-stellar conversations.
- What’s your story?
- What makes you smile first thing in the morning?
- What is that one book that has influenced you the most?
- What excites you right now?
- What’s the most important thing I should know about you?
Interesting questions lead better conversations
Get beyond basic small talk by asking his suggested questions. Three of these are below:
What’s your story? This is a unique and deep dive of a question to find out basic information about someone. It’s an open-ended question that is bound to trigger some thought from the other person. And unlike asking, “What do you do?”, this question can unlock so much more about a person than just their profession. As Schwantes points out, “By opening up a conversation in this manner, you’ve given them access to speak from their hearts and share their life’s journeys, dreams, and goals.”
What makes you smile first thing in the morning? This question is interesting because it focuses on the positive. Even mentioning the word “smile” can make someone smile. Plus, it encourages them to focus on something that simply makes them feel good.
What is that one book that has influenced you the most? Even if someone isn’t an avid reader, there’s a chance this question will still lead to an answer; it’s safe to bet that the other person will have at least one book come to mind. “The brilliance behind this question is not the question itself, but the invitation for follow-up questions because of the book’s impact on that person’s life, marriage, career, or business,” he explains. Asking even more interesting follow-up questions drives more connection. And if they say they don’t read, ask about an influential movie or famous/historical person.
More ways to keep conversations interesting
Schwantes also shares little behavior modifications that reps can do to make their discussions more captivating:
- Don’t drag on. If a topic seems to be getting tired, move along.
- Manage your talking speed. Be aware of how fast or slow you speak.
- Avoid polarizing topics. Yes, “hot” topics can be interesting, but they aren’t always appropriate for networking discussions. “To make a great first impression and draw others to you, stay upbeat in conversation and don’t bring up heated current events around race, religion, and politics,” he explains.
And most importantly, listen
Asking interesting questions won’t be of any value if you don’t listen to the response. Successful salespeople are adept at listening; if you feel you need to improve on this skill, don’t hesitate to do so.
“Listening is a trainable skill which, if optimized, can significantly impact business outcomes. Hearing happens in our ears and listening, or translating what we hear, happens in our brains,” SalesFuel’s Tim Londergan explains.
“The best way for your salespeople to improve listening skills is to practice ‘active listening’. This is a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, the complete message being communicated. Listening is a skill set that must be combined with the exceedingly important emotion of CARING.”
Adding these interesting questions to your networking discussions, and actively listening to responses, allows you to put the spotlight on the other person while learning more about them. And they will notice.
Photo by Simone Secci