Conversation Starters: A Three-Course Approach

John Goodson, networking activities coordinator for this year’s conference in Indianapolis, has put together some tips for striking up a conversation with the folks you meet during Braking Point. Just like a three-course meal, pace yourself and savor the moment!

A poster presenter strikes up a conversation with an attendee (2019)


Try one of these to get a conversation started, also be mindful of open and confident body language – if you feel confident, you will act confident:

“Say My Name, Bastian!”: Start by introducing yourself and repeat their name (twice if you can – then you’ll remember it – feels weird but it works).

  • EX: (Smile) “Hey, there, my name is John! It’s nice to meet you, Charity! What a cool name that is, Charity.”
  • EX: (Read name tag/refer to your own) “Hello, Charity, it’s nice to meet you! My name is John. How has your experience at the conference been so far, Charity.”

“Location, Location, Location”: Don’t immediately ask what they do. Instead ask if they have ever been to this city, this conference, or this venue. Have a follow-up comment or additional observation of your own too.

  • EX: “Have you been to Indianapolis before? I came here once as a kid to see family. It’s actually a pretty cool city!”
  • EX: “Isn’t this building absolutely gorgeous? Did you see that they have rooms that are actually on the old train cars?”

“Go, Team!”: Find something you have in common, such as, both drinking coffee, both wearing the same color, have identified being on the same Team (Connection, Fun, Knowledge, or Problem Solving), or both in the same session.

  • EX: (Reading matching Problem Solver tag) “Ah! I see you are a fellow Problem Solver. Me too!”
  • EX: (At the coffee table) “I’m already on my third cup of coffee this morning. I am so excited about this next session and wanted to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. How about you?”

Attendees engrossed in conversation at America’s Black Holocaust Museum (2022)

Main Course:

After you have initiated a simple and genuine greeting, you can try to dig in a bit more. You won’t build this new connection in just two minutes, but instead think of it like starting the slow cooker. Oftentimes, even just repeating back what someone said and asking them to tell you more can keep things moving. More questions than answers.

“Rookie/Experienced”: These prompts will help you dig a little deeper into the shared conference experience and bridge gaps between first-timers and seasoned attendees. 

  • EX: “This is my first time attending a conference! Have you attended many before? Which ones? Any advice?”
  • EX: “Is this your first time attending the AMM conference? This is my nth time and my favorite part is always… Would you like to sit together at lunch? I know it can all be a little overwhelming.”

“Can I Pick Your Brain?”: These prompts can get a little more personal but not too deep. By allowing yourself to be a little vulnerable and share too makes it a safe space for others to do the same.

  • EX: “I am pretty early in my museum career and I wonder what the best advice you ever received was, career or otherwise. Mine was: emotions are guides, not destinations.”
  • EX: “I’ve recently begun a transition in my career and I’ve been reflecting a lot on how I got where I am and where I want to go next. What do you think was your favorite job? Or even what was your least favorite job? I think my favorite, strangely, was a landscaping job I had years ago.”

“Yes, and…”: This is a great technique for keeping any conversation interesting. The idea is to take whatever is offered as a reply and finding a way to add to it to help dig deeper.

  • EX: “Yes, I thought the speaker brought up some great points and I really appreciated how she was so willing to be vulnerable about what didn’t work.”
  • EX: “Yes, we have been experiencing that same challenge at my museum. What different things have you all been trying?”

An attendee snaps a photo with their mentor/museum hero (2019)


These prompts can be used to wrap up a conversation and set-up the potential for the next conversation whether that is later in the conference or in a month. Be sure to thank them for chatting and repeat their name. 

“See you later, Alligator”: These can be used to conclude a conference track of a conversation and extend to another upcoming event

  • EX: “I think I am going to the evening event tonight. Are you going too? It should be pretty cool. I am excited to see that space. Maybe I will see you there! I’ll be the goober taking pictures of every label. See you around, Bethany.”
  • EX: “I’m going to grab a quick snack and a nap before the next sessions. What’s next for you? Maybe I’ll see you again at the coffee hub, fellow Team Connection mate, Elizabeth?”

“Thank you for being a friend!”: Taking a moment before the conference concludes to thank folks for taking the time to chat and see how/if they would like to stay in touch.

  • EX: “This has been such a fun first conference for me! I really appreciated you being so generous with your time and advice too. I would love to stay in touch if you want, Kaman. I am on LinkedIn.”
  • EX: “Hey, Ross, I’m heading to the airport but wanted to make sure I gave you my contact info if you ever need anything in the future. What’s the best way to stay in touch?”

“I’ve got just the thing for that!”: Rather than ending the connection by asking for something, try offering something instead. Offering a connection of your own (if you feel comfortable), a resource, an article, a follow up chat, etc. can go a long way to keep the connection alive and genuine.

  • EX: “If you would be interested, I can connect you with my friend, Tricia, who I think could be a great resource for the project you’ve been working on, Jessica. Just shoot me a message on LinkedIn and I can set up and e-intro.”
  • EX: “Danny, I kept thinking about that super fun idea we were talking about last night and would love to keep talking about it. Let me know if ever want to keep spit balling ideas. Send me an email and let’s find a time.”