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How to Start a Conversation (and Keep It Going) in Any Social Setting

Last Updated on June 19, 2023 by Lori

Are you a good conversationalist? Do you know how to start a conversation in any social setting – party, work function, conference – even surrounded by strangers?

I’m heading out to a conference in the 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.

To make myself feel just a bit more at ease, I’ve researched some pointers on how to feel confident at a party or other social event.

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, so I find myself planning ahead, both in terms of how to start conversations and how to keep them going.

two women shaking hands and smiling as they introduce themselves

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How to Feel Confident at a Party or Social Gathering – Sometimes You Need to Talk to Strangers

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.

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.

How to Make a Good First Impression

Nothing makes as good an impression as a genuine smile.

Think about why you are 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.

Be aware of the message your body language is sending.

Uncross your arms, take your hands out of your pockets, and stand at an angle toward others. All of these are cues that you are approachable and friendly.

Looking defensive, scared, or anxious will only intensify those feelings, as well as discourage others from speaking to you. Look up and at others, keep your body posture relaxed, arms at your sides and palms open. Unclench your fists!

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.

Small talk is the biggest talk we do.

Susan RoAne
woman in burgundy scarf with crossed arms looking sad and alone, how to start a conversation

How to Initiate a Conversation

Watch for people on the periphery

That woman hovering near the snack bar?

The man standing alone, staring out the window?

Chances are, these people are trying to find their place in the event and will welcome your approach as someone they can talk to.

It might be scary to make the first move, but they might be even more anxious than you, and will be so thankful you did!

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.

Watch for Openings

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 – the most extroverted people in the room will love having you nearby!

Be the Introducer

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

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.

Create a Personal Challenge

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

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!

Good listeners are perceived as good conversationalists.

Susan RoAne, author of “How to Work a Room”
woman in burgundy scarf giving a thumbs up, how to start a conversation

How to 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?

Here are some steps to master small talk:


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 reclusive.

Put that best foot forward.

Keep It Positive

Keep it positive – Mention that hike you went on over the weekend, but don’t talk about how tired you are. 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.

Avoid Standard Questions

Avoid 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.

Don’t ask a question – start a conversation.

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.

Balance the Length of Your Responses

Balance the length of your responses to questions.

Don’t give one-word answers, but try to keep your response time fairly brief. You want to give enough information for a follow-up question, but you don’t want to start a monologue.

Ask for Advice

Ask for advice. People love to give advice. Keep the topic light, though – nothing overly personal.

Be Truly Interested

Be truly interested in the speaker. Listen to what he or she says, rather than just thinking about what you will say next.

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

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.”

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.

Susan RoAne, author of “How to Work a Room”
woman in burgundy scarf with big smile, looking happy, how to start a conversation

Read More About Confidence:

Final Thoughts on How to Start a Conversation (and Keep It Going) 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 has the ability to master the art of conversation, even with strangers.

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

Who knows, you just might find yourself having a wonderful time and turn some of those strangers into permanent friends.

group of people smiling and welcoming newcomer into their group, how to talk to strangers at social events

6 thoughts on “How to Start a Conversation (and Keep It Going) 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. ๐Ÿ™‚

    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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