Conversation How-To Guides

Graphic of people standing outside with Word bubbles coming out of their mouths.Everyone has trouble thinking of what to say sometimes. However, when faced with these problems, there are some common topics people rely on to kick-start a conversation. The information below can help individuals learn how to start conversations, end conversations, make “small talk”, interact with new friends, and understand verbal and nonverbal social cues.

Starter Topics for Conversations


When talking to others pay attention to where are you. If something happens around you that is interesting or different, it can be a conversation starter. It’s a known connection between the
two of you. This is a good way to strike up a conversation with a stranger. An example might be
talking about how busy the store is if you’re shopping, or if something funny happens when standing in line at a store


The weather is a good conversation starter for someone you don’t know. It’s a topic almost most
people can talk about. Examples of this are if it has been extremely hot or if you there has been bad weather recently.

TV, Movies or Books

If you would like to get to know more about a person you are having a conversation with, ask about their interests. The most basic interests you can ask about are TV, movies, and books. If you are feeling more confident or notice something that the individual said, you can bring that up to.
An example of this is talking about sports if they are wearing a sports team’s t-shirt or hat.

Interesting Plans

Sometimes asking about someone’s plans can be a great way to start a conversation. You can learn a lot about a person, such as what they like or dislike, their interests, special hobbies, or
even similarities you both have in common. With this extra information you will be able to have a deeper discussion.

School or Work

If you’re at work or school, asking them questions about work or school can be a great way to know someone. You can ask what they do at their job, if it is different than yours, or talk about a particular task, such as a paper, that you have to complete.

* Note: To continue the conversation at a deeper level you can also bring up another topic.

Current Events

If you recently read an interesting article, or something exciting is happening in the news, you could start a conversation about that.

*Note: Try to avoid talking about politics, as those conversations can become very intense, especially if your opinions differ.

Still Struggling?

Sometimes, it is really hard to have a conversation. If you feel uncomfortable or the person doesn’t want to talk, you can politely excuse yourself. However, if the person does want to talk you can mention that you can’t think of anything to talk about and see if they begin to ask questions.

Having and Ending a Conversation with Someone You Just Met

Having a conversation with a new person can be challenging. Knowing how to politely end the conversation is often the most difficult part. However, there are a few simple steps you can follow to make ending conversations easier. Here are some general guidelines and tips that will help you appropriately end conversations with new people.

General Tips and Guidelines

    • Wait for an opportunity to politely leave the conversation. This can be accomplished by waiting until the other person finishes a story, finishes talking about a specific subject, or when both people are done talking.
    • Try to leave the conversation on a positive note. Be respectful and try not to say anything that could hurt the other person’s feelings.
    • When it’s time for you to leave, tell the other person goodbye and express gratitude towards them. This could some something like “I have to go now, but it was nice meeting you”, or “It’s time for me to leave now, but it was nice talking to you.”

What Not to Do

    • Don’t leave the conversation by interrupting the other person.
    • Don’t leave without saying goodbye and expressing gratitude.
    • Try not to leave in the middle of a topic.
    • If you feel uncomfortable around someone or you don’t have time for a conversation, don’t feel like you have to stay and talk to them. If you need to leave, politely wait for a break in the conversation and tell the other person that it’s time for you to go.

Making Small Talk with Strangers

What is Small Talk?

Small-talk is a brief conversation with someone you don’t know about a general topic. There are many situations where you may want to make small-talk with a stranger. It can sometimes be difficult to start a conversation with someone you don’t know, but these tips for making small-talk will help you feel more confident when interacting with others.


    • Start the conversation off with a friendly greeting
    • Comment on something in the environment, talk about the news, or ask a simple question such as how the person’s day is going.
    • Focus on a topic that both people understand.
    • Build the conversation off the other person’s responses.
    • When it’s time for you or the other person to leave the conversation, tell them it was nice meeting/talking to them.
    • If you don’t want to have a conversation, be polite and let the other person know that you aren’t in the mood to talk.
    • Make eye contact with the other person.
    • If someone asks you a question you don’t want to answer, tell them you prefer not to answer.


    • If the other person talks to you first, don’t ignore them or pretend not to hear them.
    • Don’t ask people  how old they are or other potentially offensive questions.
    • Don’t interrupt the other person or leave without a friendly goodbye.
    • Don’t ask personal questions.
    • Don’t feel like you have to have a conversation. It’s okay to politely decline talking to the other person.
    • Don’t answer overly personal questions.

What if They Seem Uninterested?

If the other person shows signs of disinterest, they may be telling you that they don’t want to have a conversation.

Cues that the other person may not want to have a conversation:

    • The other person is avoiding eye-contact.
    • The other person has a flat or annoyed tone of voice.
    • The other person offers very short responses or no responses at all.

What should you do?

    • If they are not talking to you, simply end the conversation with that person. Remember, it’s not your fault that they don’t want to talk.

Interacting with New Friends

Saying "Hi"

When meeting a person or group of people for the first time, it’s important to wait for a break in
the conversation to say ‘hi’. Speak clearly,tell them your name and ask for theirs. If you’ve met
before, say ‘hi’ and ask how they’ve been doing. This shows that you are interested in getting to know them.

Talk About Your Interests

It’s important for the person to get to know you. If the other person brings up a topic you find
interesting, don’t be afraid to share your thoughts. You can also share funny stories, so they
can get to know more about you. Just don’t get too personal, it may make them feel uncomfortable.

Actively Listen

This can be tough, especially if you’re not interested in the topic. However if you want to be friends, you need to listen to what they’re saying and respond to what they’re talking about. Asking questions and relating it to yourself shows you’re interested in them.


If the thought of talking with someone you don’t know scares you, it can help to practice your
conversation skills.Ask a person you trust, like a parent or friend, if you can have a practice
conversation where you will be able to act as if you’re meeting for the first time.

Exit if Necessary

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or uncomfortable, it’s okay to excuse yourself. Wait for a pause in the conversation, let them know it was nice talking to them and that you have to leave. A good example is: “It was great talking to you, but I have to go now. Bye!” Don’t feel pressured into staying in a conversation.

Thinking of What to Say

If you are having trouble thinking of things to say, look for ideas around you. For example, if they are wearing a sports t-shirt, ask them about the team. For more ideas, check out the resource
“Starter Topics for Conversations”

Connecting with New People

If you felt the conversation went really well, don’t be afraid to ask to connect with them by setting up a place to meet, or asking for a way to contact them like by email, phone or social media.

Verbal and Non-Verbal Cues

Cues That Someone Is Interested

Verbal Cues

    • The person you are talking to is actively participating in the conversation
    • They are responding in ways that keep the conversation flowing
    • Using laughter
    • Smile/positive facial expression

Facial Expressions

    • Facial expressions can be hard to read since the same expression can mean different things
    • These are examples of positive facial cues: smile, neutral expression (especially if the conversation is semi-serious), or a curious expression

Nonverbal Cues

  • If the person is making eye contact with you
  • If the person leans in slightly
  • If they are facing towards you, and not closing themselves off by crossing their arms, or facing toward the door

Cues That Someone Is Not Interested

    • The person keeps looking at their phone, the door or at the clock
    • If they talk or laugh in a flat tone
    • If their responses are very short or one word
    • Some facial expressions that indicate the person is not very interested in the conversation: avoiding eye contact, a smile that seems forced or like a grimace, etc
    • If they are facing away from you or have themselves closed off
    • If you feel uncomfortable or feel that the person doesn’t want to speak to you; excuse yourself politely and exit the conversation

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Other downloads

Name Description Type File
Conversation How-To Guides Conversation Starters pdf Download file: Conversation How-To Guides
Conversation How-To Guides How to End Conversations pdf Download file: Conversation How-To Guides
Conversation How-To Guides Making Small Talk pdf Download file: Conversation How-To Guides
Conversation How-To Guides Tips for Interacting with New Friends pdf Download file: Conversation How-To Guides
Conversation How-To Guides Verbal and Nonverbal Cues pdf Download file: Conversation How-To Guides

This information was developed by the Autism Services, Education, Resources, and Training Collaborative (ASERT). For more information, please contact ASERT at 877-231-4244 or ASERT is funded by the Bureau of Supports for Autism and Special Populations, PA Department of Human Services.