When was the last time you wanted to start a conversation with someone but didn’t know how or what to say?
Perhaps it was someone you saw at a party; networking event; someone you saw while going about your daily life in the shops; at the bank; in the library; in class at university or on the bus. Maybe it was someone you’d already met but wanted to get to know better and form some sort of connection with.
In this post I’m going to share some techniques you can use to start a conversation with absolutely anybody. They might feel a little strange at first but I’d advise you to stick with them for a while and you might find you’re able to start conversations a lot more easily.
Now all of us are at different stages in our journey of development, so this first simple technique is to help those of you who find it difficult to talk to strangers either because the thought of talking to someone you don’t know fills you with dread, or because you simply can’t think of what to say. The end goal of this technique is to get you feeling more comfortable and confident talking to people you’ve just met.
1. Say something extra to everyone you have to talk to.
What do I mean by this?
We meet people almost constantly when going about our daily lives. We have to talk to some of these people. We have to tell the barista at the coffee shop our order, tell the taxi driver where we’re going, ask the librarian if they have a book available. We regularly have to initiate verbal interactions with people. Usually these interactions are short, to the point and end with a thank you and goodbye. Next time you’re having one of these boring daily interactions, try to go a step further and express a comment or question that is beyond the normal routine conversation that you’d have with that person. At this stage, don’t worry about making it sound cool or interesting. Just say something extra.
Instead of just giving your coffee order at Starbucks say:
“You guys seem pretty quiet today”
Man you guys are working really late..I feel for you.”
If you ask someone for directions, say something extra like
“Must be really cool to work around here/in this building”.
The point of this technique is to train your mind to say more than you usually would. It’ll start breaking the habit of robotically reciting your normal spiel and start forcing your brain to think of things to say to strangers.
Like I said, it doesn’t have to be that imaginative or exciting. My examples are just simple, straightforward phrases which take the interaction one step further. Don’t worry about whether it ends up in a short conversation or fizzles out straight away, just start getting used to breaking the mould of the normal boring everyday conversation, switching off the autopilot and making your brain think.
2: Find what stands out
Okay so there’s someone you want to talk to but you have no idea what to say. Maybe you’ve never met them before, or maybe you want to try what I suggested in technique number one but just don’t have an excuse to go up and talk to them. If you can’t find a door into the conversation, then we have to make a door.
How do you make a door?
Find something about them that makes them stand out from the crowd. Is there something unusual they’re wearing? Is there anything that they’re doing that you can comment on? Is there something interesting about the situation you’re both in that you can make a statement to them about?
You could make a (positive) comment on a piece of clothing they’re wearing or their hairstyle or look. You could say something about the activity they’re engaging in:
“Hey I just noticed your scarf/bag/necklace/shoes. That’s really cool…where’d you get it?”
“You must get a lot of exercise doing this job”
TIP: Compliments are a fantastic way to break the ice, or develop a connection. Everyone loves to be complimented and it will usually always go down well (unless they’re having a bad day or in a bad mood).
So next time you’re out, start looking at people and thinking of what stands out about them. What makes them different or interesting. Then when you find something, take a deep breath, be brave and walk up and say something. You’ll find that the world is a friendlier place than you think.
Practice and become comfortable with the two techniques above. Maybe giving yourself a few weeks just training your brain to go that extra step in initiating conversations. Once you’ve done that, you can try to implement the next technique which will help you keep your conversations going and remain interesting.
3: Question, Statement, Relate. How to never run out of things to say.
This triad of Question, Statement, Relate is the blueprint of normal conversations which is made up of asking the other person questions about themselves, making statements about what they said and incorporating your own views and life experiences in order to to relate to them. So whenever you get stuck on what to say in a conversation, remember, you can use any of these three things to keep a conversation going. Mix them up. Don’t just ask question after question after question, otherwise it’ll feel like an interrogation. Rather, try to alternate between question and statement, frequently giving details of your own life that are relevant to the conversation.
TIP: Everyone’s favourite topic is themselves. If you get them talking about their own lives or interests, all you have to do is listen and make comments about what they say. You really won’t have to do much work at all and at the end of it, they’ll feel like it was a great conversation.
Real life example:
You: “Hey that’s a cool satchel you’re carrying. It looks like it’s a hundred years old” STATEMENT
Them: “Thanks, it’s actually a present from my grandma. she used to carry it to work”
You: “Oh really, interesting. I’d be terrified to take it out incase I damaged it” (STATEMENT)
Them: “Ha nah I take pretty good care of it”
You: “What do you use it for?” QUESTION
Them: “Just to carry books to university and back. So I don’t take it very far”
You: “I used to carry a rubbish old rucksack when I was at uni incase I left it anywhere by mistake” RELATE
Them: “So are you at uni at the moment then?”
You: “I wish. No I left a couple of years ago. I’m working down the road now” STATEMENT
Them: “Oh ok. What do you do?”……….
You get the point. This was how I started a conversation with someone ages ago. I met them waiting at a traffic light and we ended up on a date. You can see it didn’t involve saying anything extra special or amazingly exciting, just the ability to maintain a semi-interesting conversation.
On other occasions, I’ve ended up in conversations with random people I’ve met on holiday or on the tube or bus in London (practically illegal in this city where the unwritten law is you can’t talk to strangers under any circumstances). I’ve made a bunch of friends through starting conversations and even some useful contacts. Just a couple of weeks ago, I met a couple of really cool guys who I got chatting to. We had some common interests, got on really well and all ended up on an epic night out together.
It may feel weird and unnatural at first, but once you start meeting and talking to more people, the fear and shackling self-doubt will melt away leaving you with an incredible feeling of being able to start conversations with new people. So HAVE FUN with it.
In a future post, I’ll be talking about non-verbal communication, using body language and vocal tonality, which is important in being able to control the vibe of the conversation, how the other person feels about the interaction, and by extension, how they feel about you. You’ll be able to combine that with what I’ve talked about here to take your interactions to the next level.
Check out my blog for other useful social hacks.
Till next time.