How to start a conversation without sounding creepy

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I just read an article based on an interview with Terry Gross, the host of NPR’s “Fresh Air”. Over the last 40 years, she’s conducted thousands of interviews and offered her advice on the best way to start a conversation.

The only icebreaker you need, she said, is to say: “Tell me about yourself.”

She says “this is much more effective than the dreaded, “So what do you do?” because you don’t make any assumptions about the other person.”

She prefers her way because it, “. . . allows you to start a conversation without the fear that you’re going to inadvertently make someone uncomfortable or self-conscious. Posing a broad question lets people lead you to who they are.”

Naturally, I have a few thoughts about this.

First, if you know your audience and you’ve done your homework on the person you’re interviewing, you should be the one in the lead. If you leave it up to the interviewee, they’ll take you places you and your audience don’t necessarily want to go.

Second, making people a bit uncomfortable can lead to a more interesting interview.

Okay, this is coming from a lawyer, not the host of a cultural events show, so take it for what you will. But you know I’m right, don’t you?

Anyway, I picked up the article because I thought I’d learn a new way to start a conversation with a stranger, while networking for example. Something better than, “What do you do?”

Nope.

If a stranger comes up to me and says, “Tell me about yourself,” I’m pretty sure I’d be creeped out and say something like, “Why do you ask?” or “Who the hell are you?”

I have issues.

Seriously, if you want to start a conversation with a stranger, stick with what other people expect to hear and are prepared to respond to.

You can pick up on something you see or you heard them say. You can pay them a compliment, e.g., “I like your tie”. Or you can ask a simple question, e.g., “Have you heard this speaker before?”

Easy. Everyone’s comfortable.

Once you’ve broken the ice and you’re having a conversation, ask them “What do you do?” Because you want them to ask you what you do.

And, if you’re conducting an interview, for a podcast or video or because you’re writing a book, get my book, The Easy Way to Write a Book. You’ll learn some non-creepy ways to start the conversation and get to the good stuff.

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