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Picture the scene – you have been required to join in on a training day, conference or meeting with a group of other executives who you do not know well.

Or maybe you have been asked to join a dinner function and you know you will need to make small talk in your second language. For some people, this can be a daunting situation – what do you talk about? How do you approach someone and start a conversation?

General English teaches you how to speak to new people on a personal level – asking about families or hopes and dreams which seems a bit too familiar for a business setting.

Approaching people is the easy bit, knowing what to say is a bit more difficult.

At inlingua Cheltenham we encounter situations like this in our Business English classes as well as for ourselves when we meet agents, companies and suppliers from all over the world and here we share our top tips.

1. It is always appropriate to talk about the weather (a little)

Maybe one for if you are approaching a group of British people! Perhaps you are outdoors, it is a glorious summer’s evening. It’s completely appropriate to join a group and start with ‘it’s a lovely evening tonight isn’t it?’

Or perhaps it’s raining and you haven’t got anything positive to say and you have arrived with your umbrella ‘Would you believe this weather we are having!’

It’s a good entrance to join a group of people talking and from there, you can launch into introducing yourself if you do not know the person you are speaking to already.

2. Location, location, location

If you have never been to the venue before, perhaps you may wish to disclose that you have never been to this particular venue before. It then gives the opportunity for the person you have met to tell you about any particular interesting features of the venue or in the opposite situation, ask your new contact if they have been there before and then mention perhaps something interesting about the building’s history, or something about the town that they might not know. From there, the conversation should start to flow naturally.

3. Let’s talk about you…

People love to have someone interested in them and asking about themselves. It doesn’t need to be too personal at all – you could ask about which country they are from? Which division of the company? Where do they normally work?

4. That was an interesting presentation, wasn’t it?

This is a great cover-all statement to make whether the exhibition, presentation, conference wherever you at was good – or really bad. It encompasses having something neutral to say even if it was a soul-destroying, three hour ramble through last quarter’s figures and works for people who you know already too and allows your new contact to respond accordingly.

5. If all else fails and you cannot think of anything…

Start with a compliment. If someone has delivered a presentation, approach and say that you enjoyed their presentation , you like their outfit, or that you heard that they had won such and such a contract and congratulations.

All of these conversation starters should lead on to an introduction if you haven’t met the person before, or if you have met the group or the person before, it’s fine to then ask how they are.

It’s about keeping the tone light and positive while maintaining a professional stance.

What are your favourite conversation openers in a business situation. Tell us in the comments below.