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Elevator Awkwardness, Begone! Conversation Starters to Break the Ice

Enough about the weather. Successful charmers share their best close-quarter conversation starters.

“Ask people what their favorite app or game is.”—Randi Zuckerberg, CEO, Zuckerberg Media

“‘Where do you live? Where did you grow up? What do you do?’ With a few simple questions, we’ll know each other better.”—Rich DeVos, owner, Orlando Magic

“I’m often wearing a chef coat, so I’m easily identifiable. I always ask, ‘Where are you eating tonight?’ If they don’t have plans, I say, ‘Can I make you a reservation at one of my restaurants?’”—Daniel Boulud, chef, Daniel

“‘What made you most excited today?’ The question makes people stop and think, and their responses give me insight to help them consider tomorrow with a new set of eyes.”—Kathy Bloomgarden, chief executive officer, Ruder Finn

“I notice something unique and find out about it, whether it’s great shoes or a bunch of paperwork. It’s very easy to bring attention to something in their world and enjoy the resulting conversation.”—Michael Serruya, co-CEO, Kahala Franchising

“I see whether the person has had a chance to exercise that day. It’s a relatable topic that people enjoy discussing.”—Jonathan Tisch, chairman, Loews Hotels & Resorts

“‘How’s your day?’ If I get a sigh or an eye roll, I attempt to lighten the mood. If I get a smile, then we’re off to a great start.”—Orly Adelson, president, ITV Studios America (ITV:LN)

“I find out where they are from and how they arrived. This frequently gives way to a frustrating story about traffic or airlines and, for me, a segue into the benefits of business aviation.”—Rene Banglesdorf, co-founder, Charlie Bravo Aviation

Cohen is the author of The Sex Diaries Project: What We're Saying About What We're Doing (John Wiley & Sons).

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