Small talk is challenging for most of us – and yet, we are faced with times at work and in social situations that require us to participate. Personally, I’d much prefer to jump into a deep discussion about events of the day rather than fumbling around and talking about the weather.

We all want to be seen and heard and that’s why ice-breakers and conversation starters (often called “parlor games” back in the day)  can come in so handy. As a speaker and facilitator, I use ice-breakers all the time to get people loosened up, create a sense of familiarity and most importantly, have a laugh together.  Otherwise, you are bound to walk away from a meeting or gathering not knowing the people in the room any more than when you began.  Asking thought-provoking and fun questions is an easy way to get the party started.

The next time, you have a team meeting – and want to learn something new about your team members – or you have a gathering at your home and want to liven up the atmosphere – try these:

I love Steve Colbert’s Questionert which he boasts includes the 15 questions that reveal who a person really is.

  1.  Best sandwich?
  2.  What’s the one thing you own that you should throw out?
  3.  What is the scariest animal?
  4.  Apples or Oranges?
  5.  Have you ever asked someone for an autograph?
  6.  What do you think happens when we die?
  7.  Favorite action movie?
  8.  Favorite smell?
  9.  Least favorite smell?
  10.  Exercise – worth it?
  11. Flat or sparkling?
  12.  Most used app on your phone?
  13. You get to listen to one song for the rest of your life – what is it?
  14. What number am I thinking of?
  15.  Describe the rest of your life in 5 words.

Or the infamous questions James Lipton would ask his actor guests at the end of Actor’s Studio:

  • What is your favorite word?
  • What is your least favorite word?
  • What turns you on?
  • What turns you off?
  • What sound or noise do you love?
  • What sound or noise do you hate?
  • What is your favorite curse word?
  • What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Finally,  the Proust Questionnaire that has its origins in a parlor game popularized by Marcel Proust, the French essayist and novelist.  He believed that, in answering these questions, an individual reveals his or her true nature.  Here they are:

  1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?
  2. What is your greatest fear?
  3. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
  4. What is the trait you most deplore in others?
  5. Which living person do you most admire?
  6. What is your greatest extravagance?
  7. What is your current state of mind?
  8. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
  9. On what occasion do you lie?
  10. What do you most dislike about your appearance?
  11. Which living person do you most despise?
  12. What is the quality you most like in a man?
  13. What is the quality you most like in a woman?
  14. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
  15. What or who is the greatest love of your life?
  16. When and where were you happiest?
  17. Which talent would you most like to have?
  18. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
  19. What do you consider your greatest achievement?
  20. If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
  21. Where would you most like to live?
  22. What is your most treasured possession?
  23. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
  24. What is your favorite occupation?
  25. What is your most marked characteristic?
  26. What do you most value in your friends?
  27. Who are your favorite writers?
  28. Who is your hero of fiction?
  29. Which historical figure do you most identify with?
  30. Who are your heroes in real life?
  31. What are your favorite names?
  32. What is it that you most dislike?
  33. What is your greatest regret?
  34. How would you like to die?
  35. What is your motto?

Choose a few, choose them all, try them out and see if personalities are revealed and relationships blossom – perhaps because of commonalities or curiosity to know more.  For those who are more introverted, leveraging these kinds of questions provide conversational guard rails – allowing each person a moment in the spotlight without burdening them with carrying the weight of the entire conversation – we’ll leave that to our more extraverted colleagues and friends.