How to Start a Conversation

Meeting new people

Do you know how to start a conversation with someone?

Meeting new people isn’t always easy.  And when you do meet someone for the first time, what do you say after the obligatory, “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

This is where small talk comes in.  

Small talk allows you to skim the surface of another person’s interests and personality.  It helps build a bridge between strangers. 

A successful interaction with someone you’ve just met sets a positive tone for the meal, party, social or networking event you are attending.  On such occasions, friendly conversation is the goal!

Go Ahead and Break the Ice!

For most people of any age, the hardest part of starting a conversation with someone you don’t know is to break the ice.  Once that’s done, everything else will be easier.

Reach out and introduce yourself offering your right hand.  Smile!  And don't be afraid to go first!  Remember the mark of a self-introduction is to make eye contact.

Also, one of the friendliest things you can do is remember the names of people you meet.  If this doesn’t come naturally to you, practice saying a person’s name immediately after meeting them. 

Your practice may go something like this, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Patrick.  So, Patrick, are you a friend of the bride or groom?”

If you need to, weave Patrick’s name into the conversation a couple sentences later as well.  Or at least, before you have a chance to forget it.  This way, when someone else joins your conversation, you will have no problem introducing Patrick to that person.

Listening and eye contact, as with deeper conversation, are also important when making small talk.

Just because you’re only skimming the surface to find common interests, doesn’t mean you can come across as uncommitted to the conversation.  Quite the opposite.

If you show a lack of enthusiasm when speaking with someone for the first time, it may just be the last time you converse with that person.  Prove yourself as a worthy conversation partner and use small talk as an introduction to a more meaningful exchange rather than a means to pass the time.

Small talk creates a safe ground to help you get to know someone.  Use it wisely, and you may discover that making new friends is easier than you thought!

More Tips on How to Start a Conversation

Keep it positive.  Remember, your goal is to enter into friendly conversation, not to make someone run away.  Refrain from sarcasm and negative comments.

Have a list of topics in mind to help start conversations.  Your list may vary depending on whether you’re attending a social, school, or work event.  Knowing what you’d like to talk about ahead of time makes it very easy to pull from your mental list at a second’s notice.

Here are some examples to keep in mind:

  • Have you lived around here long?  What brought you here?
  • How do you happen to know our host?
  • What classes are you taking this semester?
  • What is the best restaurant around here?
  • What have you enjoyed most about your summer?
  • Other interest inquires such as recent books, music, plays, concerts, TV series, sports teams, cooking, pets, traveling, weekend enjoyments.

Ask open-ended questions to invite dialog.  Try and steer clear of questions that could be answered with a quick “yes” or “no.”

Remember to smile, make eye contact, and listen!  This helps people relax and want to get to know you.

Don't Put Your Friendly Conversation in Jeopardy

Many of us know we shouldn't discuss politics and religion when first meeting someone.  It's also not very polite to ask questions considered "personal."

But there are some specific subjects that may turn your conversation from friendly to heated.  Here are some to avoid:

  • Financial issues
  • Physical hardships or illness
  • Details of a divorce or other relationship issues
  • Weight, height, shoe size, age
  • Any “downer” or gloomy topics
  • Debatable or controversial topics
  • Off-color jokes or topics
  • Gossip of any kind

Putting yourself out there can be difficult, especially if you feel unprepared.  Take these tips (and some open-ended questions) with you to your next event or gathering and I believe your confidence level will increase.  A little practice can take you a long way.

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