Fun phone call conversation starters

Alicia Kalnawat profile image January 22, 2024 | 4 min read

In an age when more people have cell phones than ever before, far fewer of us talk on them. We text, we scroll, we email; anything to keep from actually using our voices.

For younger generations who have grown up tapping communications on their phone, talking may seem unnecessary—or even scary. But conversations are the bedrock of connection, especially in business.

When you need to clarify something, a quick call instead of emailing can save a lot of time and energy. You may realize you have additional questions while you’re talking on the phone, which allows you to efficiently gather all the information you need at once without the back and forth of email.

Besides, our brains are hardwired for conversation. Neuroscience has demonstrated that positive conversations can trigger the “feel good” chemicals that make us happy and relaxed. So talking on the phone is good for you. What’s missing are good conversation starters.

How to start a conversation

If your conversation is going to be work related, this is probably easy: “Hi Bill, I have a few follow-up questions about the McKenzie project.” Straightforward and clear; no need to consider things to talk about. But phone conversations with friends, or a potential partner? This is where many people feel emojis are a safer form of expression.

Wellness,” a new novel, explores why someone in the Gen Z or Millennial cohort might feel this way. In the book, a psychologist studying the placebo effect has his intern ask prospective dates a series of unorthodox, highly personal questions to see whether this approach will cause them to fall in love with her. While the official experiment didn’t work, the intern successfully applied the concept in her personal life.

Such probing inquiries can be useful for delving deeper with someone you’re involved with and want to know better, but it’s best to lead with something less intrusive for conversation starters with strangers, or those you don’t know very well. Here are some ideas to try:

  • Attentive listener. One dear lady named Eleanor, who lived to be 101, opened just about every phone conversation saying, “Tell me all about you!” People love to talk about themselves, and typically confer “excellent listener” status on a person who encourages them to share all about what they’ve been doing. Indeed, Eleanor enjoyed a wide range of friendships well into old age because she was genuinely interested in people and their life stories—and by dint of her interest, most conversations with her turned into fun phone calls.

  • Seasonal prompts. If it’s near a holiday, you could ask a playful question such as:

    If you could have lunch with any current or former president, whom would you choose?

    Have you ever fallen for an April Fool’s prank?

    Are you awed—or annoyed—by municipal fireworks displays?

    What was your best (or worst) Halloween costume?

    When did you stop believing in Santa Claus, and who spilled the beans?

    When possible, have a personal anecdote ready that moves the conversation along.

  • Digital detox. Since so many people vow to start a diet in the new year, a great conversation starter might be about doing a digital detox, and the value in bringing back your home phone. All fads cycle around—witness the uptick in low-rise flared jeans and tie-dye. While fashion is notoriously fickle, home phone lines are a good investment to have or restore in any era: they’ll make it easy for friends and family to remember just a single number and give you a rest from being always “on” with digital devices. Most people have strong opinions one way or the other on this topic, so it makes for spirited phone conversations. And if you reside with elders, you know they typically find talking on the phone easier with a landline, instead of being confounded by all those smartphone icons. Ooma has a few retro phones they may enjoy.

  • Familial and personal exploration. Speaking of family, a good icebreaker for new relationships is, “Who’s your oldest living relative?” If family is paramount to you, you can also ask how important family is to them, and perhaps what, if any, unusual family traditions they observe. If you’re ready to jump into vulnerable topics, you can ask whether personal growth is something that matters to them, and if so, how they heed their inner voice.

  • Keeping long-distance love alive. For couples who are far apart geographically, good communication habits can help the relationship thrive over the phone. How long-distance couples communicate depends on the couple, of course, but a few creative tips include watching a TV show or film together at your respective residences and discussing it afterward, sharing a meal together via phone, and having a regular goodnight phone call.

When you use your imagination, you’ll never run out of interesting topics to talk about on the phone. If you’re stuck, just ask an open-ended question, and listen with your full attention. That will be a win every time.