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How to Talk to Strangers (in Any Social Setting)

Are you a good conversationalist? Do you know how to talk to strangers in any social setting – party, work function, conference?

I’m heading out to a conference tomorrow morning. It’s designed to be a highly interactive event, and I have never met any of the other participants.

I get very nervous in these situations.

You see, I can step out of my shell when I know I need to – when I know it’s up to me to seek out other people to talk to, to have a conversation with, to create new friendships. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Small talk does not come naturally to me. I admire those who always feel at ease in conversations. I’m not one of them, but I know that meeting new people can be good social self-care.

What’s a woman to do?

Read About Social Self-Care for Women Over 50

group of four adults holding a conversation during a meal break at a social event, how to talk to strangers

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How to Talk to Strangers Step-by-Step

Some people are natural-born talkers. My friend Pat often jokes about how she could have a conversation with a light post (she probably could!).

Like the majority of people in the world, I consider myself to be friendly and outgoing when I’m around people I know, but less so among people who I haven’t met.

I know there are others out there whose anxiety never really lessens when they are in groups where small talk is required.

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There are ways to prepare for these situations and make them more comfortable, regardless of your comfort levels with initiating and continuing conversations with strangers.

In other words, you can learn how to talk to strangers – how to start a conversation, and how to keep it going.

How to Talk to Strangers: Make a Good First Impression

1. Give a genuine smile

Think about the event you are attending. Why are you at this event – after all, you chose to be there for one reason or another. Let people know you are happy to be there. Show it with a smile.

2. Be aware of your body language

Looking defensive, scared, or anxious will only intensify your fragile feelings, as well as discourage others from speaking to you.

  • Uncross your arms
  • Take your hands out of your pockets
  • Look up and at other people
  • Keep your body posture relaxed
  • Hold your arms at your sides with your palms open
  • Unclench your fists!

3. Put your phone away!

Nothing says “I don’t want to talk to you” like someone engrossed in their phone.

Step away from that safety zone and prepare to communicate with others in person, not on a device.

quote "small talk is the biggest talk we do", how to talk to strangers

How to Talk to Strangers: Initiate a Conversation

1. Watch for people on the periphery

See that woman hovering near the snack bar?

And the man standing all alone, staring out the window?

That other woman, sipping her club soda and nervously playing with the straw while she looks around skittishly?

Chances are, these people are trying to find their place in the event. Like you, they don’t know anyone. These people are probably very nice people, but they are anxious about being here.

These are your people – go talk to them. They will be so glad that you made the effort.

It might be scary to make the first move, until you realize that everyone else is looking for someone brave enough to do just that.

Be that person and help your future friends out!

2. Don’t cling to the first person you meet

Meeting people is not a “one and done”, even if you feel very comfortable with the first person you talk to.

Make it a point to circulate amongst the crowd on your own. A team of two who do everything together only get to know each other – you are where you are for a larger purpose.

Make the effort not to take the easy way out. Plan on talking to lots of different people.

3. Watch for Openings in Group Conversations

If everyone seems to be clustered into groups, watch for openings.

When someone walks away from a group, step into the opening and spend a few minutes just listening, so that you can catch up on the conversation. This allows you to get a feel for everyone else’s personalities and interests, as well as demonstrate your listening skills.

Be a good listener. The most extroverted people in the room will love having you nearby!

4. Be the One Who Makes The Introductions

When someone joins a group you are in, make a point to welcome them and include them in the conversation.

As you meet people, be the one who introduces them to others. If you can’t remember your name, share something positive about them.

People will remember that you made them feel comfortable, and will go out of their way to do the same for you if the opportunity arises.

5. Give Yourself a Personal Challenge

If you approach the event with a personal challenge, you will be motivated to interact.

You don’t have to share the challenge with anyone – it’s just for you.

Try to find five people from your industry, two art lovers, one who saw a good movie recently, three who have dogs. Whatever you can think of, small games like this will challenge you to open up and talk – as well as give you topics to discuss!

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quote "good listeners are perceived as good conversationalists", how to talk to strangers

How to Talk to strangers: Keep The Conversation Going

Now that you’ve presented yourself as friendly, and found people to talk to, how do you start a conversation and keep it moving?

Continuing a conversation once it’s begun can seem more daunting than anything!

1. Be Yourself

Be yourself, always – but offer up the best version of yourself. The interested, friendly version. Don’t scare people away by being angry or argumentative.

Put that best foot forward. Smile, laugh, nod.

2. Keep It Positive

Keep it positive – Mention that hike you went on over the weekend, but don’t talk about how tired you are because of it. Bring up a favorite hobby, but don’t whine about the fact that you are too busy to pursue it right now. Offer compliments, but don’t beat yourself down in the process.

Hit the highlight reel – don’t be fake, just leave out the negative comments.

3. Avoid Asking The Standard Questions

Avoid asking standard questions such as “What do you do?” and “Where are you from?”, except for early in the event before everyone has heard them from every other person they’ve spoken with.

No one wants to have the same conversation a dozen times in one evening.

Instead, ask about their familiarity with the local area, what books they’ve read recently, or how they feel about a current event.

In other words, don’t ask a question – start a conversation.

4. Avoid Questions with One-Word Answers

Avoid questions that can be answered in one word.

Try asking “why” or “how” instead of “what”. Open-ended questions spark conversation.

5. Balance the Length of Your Responses

Balance the length of your responses to questions.

One-word answers can seem abrupt, but you don’t want to dominate the conversation. Answer with a sentence or two, and tack on a question at the end to turn it back over to someone else.

6. Ask for Advice

Ask for advice. People love to give advice. Keep the topic light, though – nothing overly personal. “It’s my first time here – what are the absolute best sessions to attend?” “Have you found a place nearby that’s got a great breakfast?”

7. Be Interested

Be truly interested in the speaker and what he/she is saying. Make it a point to listen to what he or she says, rather than just thinking about what you will say next.

If you are really disinterested in the conversation, don’t fake it – excuse yourself politely and move on to another group or person.

8. Give Sincere Compliments

Give sincere compliments. Everyone enjoys hearing praise, as long as it is genuine. Keep it simple and not too personal.

If you receive a compliment, respond with a simple “thank you.”

quote "They say, You can't give a smile away; it always comes back. The same is true of a kind word or a conversation starter. What goes around, comes around.", how to talk to strangers

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Final Thoughts on How to Talk to Strangers (in Any Social Setting)

No matter the situation, remember that it is normal to feel some anxiety when you make small talk with strangers.

You are not alone – most of the people you are speaking with feel the same, regardless of how confident they look.

With practice, anyone can master the art of conversation, even with strangers.

Remember to treat everyone with the kindness and respect you would like to receive.

You just might find yourself having a wonderful time and turn some of those strangers into permanent friends.

now that you know how to talk to strangers, are you looking forward to your next social event?
group of four adults holding a conversation during a meal break at a social event, how to talk to strangers

6 thoughts on “How to Talk to Strangers (in Any Social Setting)”

    1. I’ve struggled with the same thing – which is basically why I wrote the post! I hope my ideas make integrating yourself easier. Thanks for reading!

  1. Your post was a good reminder that we (especially if you’re an introvert like me!) need to feel prepared before an event. Thanks for your suggestions. I like to enter a gathering with the thought that almost everyone else there wants someone to talk to!I’m rarely disappointed. 🙂

    1. It’s so true, Gail! Everyone wants someone to talk to who will make them feel comfortable and confident in a group setting. These gentle reminders make entering an event so much easier. Thank you so much for reading!

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