Exactly how to start a conversation in these 5 common work situations

From running into the CEO in the elevator to chatting with co-workers in the kitchen, your opener can make all the difference. Here’s how to nail it.

Exactly how to start a conversation in these 5 common work situations
[Photo: jacoblund/iStock]

In a meeting, opening with “Um’s and ah’s” isn’t going to help sell your idea.  In the elevator with your new CEO, “Hi” by itself is a non-starter. Corridor chats that begin “how’s it going?” rarely go anywhere. Most of the ways we open conversations fail to engage the audience.


Your first words should build a bridge to your audience. Whether you’re speaking to a roomful of colleagues, your boss, or a group of friends, draw them in by showing you care about them, their feelings, and ideas.
You can mention a previous meeting with them, reference a suggestion they’ve made, or ask how a particular speech of theirs went. What’s important is that you begin with your audience. Below are ways to do this in all your conversations.

Corridor Conversations

The first line in a corridor conversation should be audience-centered. Instead of smiling and using the generic “how’s it going?” begin with something that makes the other person feel special. “You’re the very person I want to see,” you might say, and then go on to explain why you want to talk to your colleague. Perhaps it’s about a joint venture or a customer lead you’re interested in obtaining. Whatever the topic, you’ve just won over your colleague with this opening.

Beware of grabbers that can lead to longer excursions than you want. If you begin, “So Kamil, how is your family?” you might just hear about baby Jessica’s nighttime crying sprees. Great for a conversation over lunch, but not necessarily for those times when you only have a few moments to talk in the corridor.

Elevator Chats

Here too your opening lines should say something about the person who’s standing there next to you. Suppose an executive has just stepped into the elevator and you realize this is a VP who was on a panel in a recent Town Hall. Catch your breath and say, “So glad to meet you, I’m Brenda Bradford, and I heard you last week at our Town Hall. I really liked your views on how our corporate culture can be strengthened to become more inclusive.”

That VP will likely remember you from then on. And who knows, she just might keep you mind for the next job posting in her department. Elevator conversations can be career-enhancing moves.

Meetings with Your Boss

If you have regular meetings with your supervisor, refer to her goals and directives. Suppose you’re reporting on Project X. You might say, “You asked me last week to look into the status of this project, and I’m pleased to tell you that we’re in good shape.” If you’re reporting on Project Y you might begin, “Now I know this next project is one of your favorites, so I’ve accelerated the timetable for its completion.”


Job Interviews

Few conversations are more important that job interviews, so here too reach out to the person who is interviewing you and to her company. That opening will go a long way toward making you appear attractive as a candidate.

It’s all too easy for jobseekers to focus on themselves, but that smacks of self-absorption. So begin with words of appreciation: “Thank you for taking the time to meet with me–I’ve read so much about you and your company. I admire the leadership it has demonstrated for the industry.”

Such a prologue would lead nicely into a discussion of your credentials and the role you can play.

I recently spoke to a group of chartered financial accountants, and one said he never thought of speaking about the person who was interviewing him. He thought the whole meeting should be about putting himself forward. But the truth is that when you talk about the company that’s interviewing you, you are selling yourself as a team player.

Networking Conversations

You’ve decided to attend a networking event, and you find yourself in front of a stranger. What do you say? “Tell me about yourself,” is a good lead, as is, “I love your tie,” or “Great shoes!” People love to talk about themselves.

Even better is to approach someone you’d like to get to know and (having done some research on that individual) say, “I’m Ivan Kodaly–I’ve wanted to meet you for some time.” Your opening words make that person want to hear more.


In all these situations, the best openings focus on your audience. Let your listeners know that you care about them and want to know more about them. If you do that, they’ll want to know more about you. It’s that simple. Try it!


About the author

Judith Humphrey is founder of The Humphrey Group, a premier leadership communications firm headquartered in Toronto. She also recently established EQUOS Corp., a company focused on delivering emotional intelligence training to the fitness, medical, and business sectors