1. A Photo War
Challenge the people in your corner of the room to call up the most interesting photo on their phone. Whether you're shown kids doing something goofy, an unusual store sign or—as happened to a friend—snapshots of recently discovered fossilized early-human footprints, you'll get an instant peek into these people's lives, and very likely, at least one thing you will all love talking about.
2. Share a Scar Story
It may seem like a tough-guy movie pickup line, but everyone has scars to show—and stories behind them. The best are the scars that have two stories: "Well, I tell people it's from a fistfight, but actually, I slipped on the ice while carrying a stack of pies... "
3. The (Hidden) Common Link
If you are at the same event with somebody, chances are you have at least one thing in common—maybe it's the bride, maybe it's the fundraiser's hostess. Rather than asking the timeworn "So how do you know Blahbedeblah?" get more specific about what you—and your new conversation mate—likely admire in that person. As in "Doesn't Blahbedeblah always have the most fabulous hats/parties/ideas/snacks?" (Dear old Blahbedeblah, always a connector.)
4. Instant Yelp
Ask people what they love most about their neighborhood or town. Do they have a favorite restaurant—or thing to do? They're hemming or hawing? Make it easier and see if they know the best place to go apple-picking/fall-leaf-appreciating/holiday-light-viewing. As a bonus, you'll find yourself with a whole new list of fun things to try.
5. The 30-Second Book Report
When it seems like you have less than nothing in common with someone, start a Triage Book Club. What have you read most recently? Did you devour that kind-of-embarrassing-but-also-a-little-great book everyone was reading a few months ago? A 50 Shades of Grey confession session can be a great unifier.
6. Your Favorite Complaint
There is nothing that brings people together like complaining. Bring up the worst pet you've ever had, or something endearingly annoying your favorite barista did recently. People love to pitch in with their own stories. And here's the real secret to having a conversation with anyone, anytime: be interested. Open yourself to their stories—I actually want
to know about the time their husky ate their car keys—and they will feel it.
Next: 10 social skills anyone can master