» How to Create the Perfect Icebreaker in Under 3 Seconds

by Marcus Oakey on November 12, 2010

Breaking the Ice

Picture the scene: you’re sitting in a hotel lobby when you look across the aisle and spy that billionaire Richard Branson leafing through a magazine! You’re dying to strike up a conversation with him because he’ll probably be the greatest business contact you’ll ever meet!

But what do you say?
All the lines (“Do you come here often?”) that you’ve been blasting on repeat in your head just seem a teensy bit cliched and awkward. And because they’re all prepared (and by that I mean that you already heard them some place before) you eventually dismiss the idea of saying anything and continue to sit alone in silence.

Now this isn’t a very positive way to lead our lives.

FACT: It is much easier to start up a conversation if you feel like you have a genuine reason to do so, rather than calling on the aid of rehearsed lines. For instance, it’s no sweat to ask someone for the time if you genuinely need to know it, rather than because it’s a bad excuse to chat to someone. (I seem to remember doing this kind of cheesey thing at university!)

So we need to work on finding a REASON to speak to someone that is linked to you EXPRESSING something REAL about them. The best, and most genuine, thing to express about them is something you love, or are curious about (which is probably why you noticed them in the first place).

For this to work I’m going to need you to concentrate on turning your quiet, subconscious observations about people into verbal statements. To help with this I have a nifty formula (which I know all you eggheads out there will like):

The Blueprint For The Perfect Icebreaker

Take: Stock Statement (A) + Love or Curiosity (B) + Witty Observation (C) = Possibly the world’s loveliest icebreaker.

Let’s look at each of those A,B & C components in more detail.

Stock Statement A: This is just a general statement that we preface our observation with, in order to cover that important base of not looking like a crazy person, and to get that conversational ball rolling. Typically, it would go something like this:

“I know this is pretty random but…”

Or when you get confident:

“You’ll never guess what?”

Love/Curiosity B: This is your observation that expresses a love or curiosity about the person you want to get nattering to. The love or curiosity you have will generally be about one of four possible topics: what they’re wearing / what their demeanor is/ how they’re walking/ what they’re doing.

Here are some A+Bs that I’ve used recently:

“I know this is pretty random but … I love how you’ve coordinated your handbag with your shoes- how very Parisian of you!”

“I know this is pretty random but … I love how you’re smoking your cigarette in a really European way.” (Oops they’re both to do with Europe but you get the idea…)

“I know this is pretty random but… I’m curious to know if you’re glued to the spot? As I walked down here half an hour ago and you’re standing in exactly the same position.”

Now you can end your icebreaker there and they’ll probably be smiling and chatting to you.

Let’s Make Your Icebreaker Even Better

But if you want to really blow their socks off I’d suggest this extension statement which includes witty statement C, with that more advanced Stock statement A. Which will eventually give the icebreaker:

“You never guess what? I really like X about you, and you’ll never guess why…”

Broken down into bite size chunks this is what you do:

1. Before you say Love/Curiosity B, say:

“You’ll never guess what?”

2. Follow it with your usual B remark of:

“…I really love X about you…”

3. Add a witty comment C to the end:

“…you’ll never guess why….”

This will crank out conversation starters that may sound a little like these:

“You’ll never guess what? I love how you’re dragging a massive bag behind you; you’d never guess that there’s a body in it!”

“You’ll never guess what? I love how you’re queuing up to buy all this stuff, you’d never guess you were planning on stealing it originally!”

“You’ll never guess what? I love how you’re yawning. You’d never guess that you’ve been awake for five days!”

You may notice that I’ve written all of these examples with an exclamation mark (!) at the end. There is a good reason for that: it is highly, highly important that you always use these conversational starters with a jovial, upbeat tone. This is what guarantees a positive response. Say it with a grumpy tone and you’ll probably get grumpy back.

After all, the response you get is going to be a reaction to the vibe you give out. These kind of icebreakers will score you points for sounding like a cool, witty, person just don’t ruin it by delivering the line with a frown!

Helpful Homework

Personally, I think this formula for how to start a conversation is pretty awesome..! But if you’re reading this scratching your head and thinking:

“It’s okay for Marcus, he can always think of something to say- I can’t just make that stuff up!” I have a little exercise for you to generate smooth observations:

1.) People watch. Start actively looking for things that you love about strangers who pass you by (this can be done at your leisure!). The more you look the more you will see. Remember: You’ll typically be making your B statement out of what they’re wearing / what their demeanor is/ how they’re walking/ what activity they’re doing.

2.) Don’t immediately expect for you to be able to think of this love or curiosity instantly (well at first, anyhow..!) There will be many times you will simply draw a blank and the moment will pass you by. (Hey, it happens to all of us!) Instead, be wise AFTER the event. Ponder on what you could have said to them for a while. Make a conscious effort to rack your brains and figure out what would have been the *perfect thing to say*.

(NB: This took 30 minutes the first time I tried, but I promise every time you do it, the quicker you’ll come up with an answer.)

And by jove, in a short while you should be able to crack a smile at a funeral, instantaneously. Or at the very least strike up a conversation with Richard Branson about how his plans for world domination are coming/ why in the world he chose the name ‘Virgin’ for his company/ how you love the little in-flight amenity kits Virgin makes.

You can download his free eBook “How To Talk To Anybody Without Fear Of Rejection: 21 Secrets To Conversational Mastery” at http://www.yourcharismacoach.com/



About the Author

author photo

Marcus is a charisma coach and specialist in communication skills. His
job is to get all eyes on you, by coaching your social skills to a
level beyond what you picked up at any school, college or training
course. Today Marcus teaches people from all walks of life effective
and powerful conversation
skills
, and that often elusive ingredient – charisma!

See All Posts by Marcus Oakey



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3 Responses to How to Create the Perfect Icebreaker in Under 3 Seconds

  • bonsai says:

    This article is terrible. The idea is OK. I’ve used it a few times. The examples are downright horrible though.

  • Marcus says:

    Hi Bonsai, thanks for taking the time to write. Sorry to hear you feel the examples aren’t up to scratch. They’re certainly what I use and work great for me, so i thought i’d share this (geekily analytical) article to explain what i do. The trick is how you say it: if you’re upbeat and positive you should get a great reaction! I’ll make sure future articles are less analytical though!

  • Brandon says:

    Nice article Marcus. Very simple idea (I always find they tend to be the most effective).

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