I was recently at a work function. I happened to be put on a table with other people my age. All of them were couples and I was the only single person. I had nothing in common with them: I was single, while they were engaged/married/married with kids. They were discussing buying homes while I still rent a tiny place that I barely bother to keep tidy. Some of them knew each other previously and were already discussing common friends and acquaintances.

In the end however, I was able to join in the discussion in a great way. And this is how I did it:

I am aware of things that are popular and have wide appeal.

I may not have watched any of the Harry Potter movies, but I am aware of the franchise, the general story, names of main characters, and all the spin-off books and movies. This allows me to either join a conversation or start up a conversation with people who have a strong interest in the topic.

Does this mean you should abandon your niche interests and follow the masses and what is trending? Absolutely not. In fact, niche interests can create even stronger sense of bonding and being part of a small “in-group,” leading to a greater foundation for friendship. When we are thinking of socializing with strangers and people you do not know however, a great strategy for developing rapport will be through discussing topics of popular and wide appeal. These topics are an easy way for people to have conversations without excluding too many people.

Here are four great topics you should learn about to maximize your conversation engaging ability at your next event:

Popular and Recent Movies

Certain movies are incredibly popular and mass appeal. Currently, there may be nothing more popular than the Marvel comic book adaptation movies. It started with an X-Men movie when I was in high school, then came Spider-Man, then came Iron Man, then the sequels… and now, there seems to be a new Marvel trailer debuting every several months. The most recent Marvel movie was Black Panther, which is breaking box office records. When a movie is so popular, by watching it, you too can join the conversations. Even better, when it comes to movies like Marvel, or DC Comics, Harry Potter, Twilight, Star Wars or any series of movies, it opens up conversations for sequels, related-universe films, and possibly book versus movie discussions.

TV Shows and Netflix

There is no better way to find common ground with complete strangers than through discussions of TV shows. As people have migrated to the internet for their entertainment needs, it has meant the growth of Netflix, which is affordable and offers a gigantic selection of shows. Although not everyone watches shows, almost all people who identify themselves as “homebodies” will! The quality of TV shows was greatly escalated in the past decade, with some shows receiving movie-like budgets and being part of a long dramatic series, rather than being standalone episodes (think the Simpsons). This leads to greater character development, greater drama, and stronger viewership.


Sports are always popular points of discussion for men, wherever you may be. Not everyone needs to have a deep knowledge of the players and the team strategies, but understanding the rules of the game as well as having general knowledge of sports news. For example, things you can know without watching an entire season of basketball are the following:

  • know who the superstars are and what team they play for (Lebron James – The Cleveland Cavaliers, Kevin Durant – The Golden State Warriors)
  • know which teams have incredible legacies (the Spurs have consistently been in the playoffs for the past decade or so, and have won a couple of championships)
  • know when something happens so big that it goes into world news (for example, Linsanity or Blake Griffin dunking over a car)
  • know which 2 teams are playing for the championship (and ask people who they think will win and why!)


More popular than TV is food. Not everyone enjoys TV. However, everyone has to enjoy food and has an opinion on it. The greatest evidence of this is by looking at social media feeds and to see how frequent people post pictures of food. If you visit Yelp, there you’ll see entire short stories of people reviewing restaurants and their experience at the restaurant. The opinions on food can range from “great” to “it was a mouth-watering sauce with hints of honey and sesame topped with freshly plucked thyme” (I just made that up — I’m not that pretentious).

Learning about food does not mean you have to be a foodie. You simply explore different restaurants (sit-in or takeout) or you play the “new restaurant” game, where you explore a restaurant near you that has good reviews that you haven’t tried before.

Break It Down: Be Okay With Joining or Staying Out of the Conversation

When group conversations are developing, feel free to chime in with your questions or opinions. Just wait for an opening or start to gesture that you want to say something by opening your mouth or moving your body (this will tell people you want to say something and hopefully they’ll let you talk). From there, ask your question or say your comment. Hopefully people will reply with a question or an opinion to your opinion, and from there, the conversation can start. You don’t need to actively talk — you can also listen, but it is more fun (and challenging) to join in the conversation.

One note: sometimes the group conversation changes to a topic you are not familiar with. This happened to me at this work party as well. We were having fun talking about TV shows when two people started talking about mutual friends. At that point, I had several choices:

  • I could not talk and just focus on my food
  • I could pretend to listen attentively
  • I could talk to the person next to me who was also not interested in the conversation and this would start a side conversation

I ended up doing the last one after waiting around for 10 minutes. And guess what happened afterwards? My conversation was so interesting, the two people talking about mutual friends stopped their conversation to join our side conversation. For me, that’s a major achievement and major plus points.


If you were anything like me when I was 18 and out into the world, you might think that some of these topics are vain, superficial, and silly. You might be right. However, consider the setting: this is a company party, social event, or group dinner where people who may not know each other are together. People want to have fun, and the above topics, are generally considered fun — they are things that people enjoy (even if their experience was bad, it’s enjoyable to talk about how bad it was!). Also, if you want to have a deep, meaningful conversation, that is okay, but understand it may mean you have a lack of this in your life currently, but that doesn’t mean you should try to fill that need with stranger, acquaintances, or work colleagues!  You will need to work at developing social relationships and when the time is right, you can open up to people you feel rapport with. Until then, having deep conversations may be high-risk strategy that will end up with many people exiting the conversation to talk about something more fun.