Let’s say you read my advice on meeting new people, and you decided to take action. You decided to find local events, local communities, and networking events in your area. And then you think to yourself…
” Yes, but I still have trouble breaking the ice with strangers! ”
That’s where this article comes in. I wanted to give you a set of tools and principles on how you actually start conversations with potential friends in the easiest and most natural way possible.
Meeting your next best friends, still starts with you talking to strangers. You need to meet people in local events, or through local meetup groups, and stay in touch with some of them, and discover with whom you’re going to be friends.
Let’s dive right in…
Where Do You Start A Conversation?
Before we get to the “how to” part, let’s specify our context here.
So you want to improve your social life by meeting better, more interesting people. You go to places where other people are out to meet new friends as well.
This article addresses starting conversations when meeting people you don’t know at all (meetup events, networking events, local community events, etc)… AND when meeting people through existing friends (birthdays, home parties, dinner with friends, etc).
Now that that’s done, let’s proceed.
1. Start With What You Agree On
The best way to start conversations is to talk about something you agree on. Generally, it’s something about the context.
Example: Say you’re in a networking event about gadget-based start-ups…
You can walk to anyone, introduce yourself, and say “So, do you work on gadgets, or are you just curious about this stuff…”
Second Example: Say you’re invited to go grab dinner with some friends and friends of friends, and you find yourself sitting next to someone you didn’t meet before…
You can get the conversation started by saying “So how do you know John Doe” (John Doe being the name of the friend you have in common.)
In both of these examples, we’re starting the conversation with something you can both agree on. You both agree on the theme of the event for the first example, and you both agree on who organized the event and brought you together.
Starting with what you agree on works in any situation. That’s why people have always been starting conversations by talking about the weather… because they agree on it; all they have to do is look at the sky. They can relate on that.
Whenever you meet people in a an event, just ask what their relationship with the theme of the event.
If it’s about gardening, ask “so, do you garden already or just looking to start?”
If it’s an expatriates event, you ask “so, where are you from? What do you do here?”
If it’s an event about wine and beer, ask “so, what do you like best, wine or beer?” And so on.
Seems obvious? It’s meant to be; it’s full-proof. It gets the conversation started.
2. Move To A Larger Context: Facts And Opinions
Once the conversation starts, you go into each of yours history and relationship to the theme of the event. You talk about what each of you did before, and/or where you used to live before.
You share basic facts about your lives. The theme of the event makes it easy to ask these questions without getting into a boring interview-style conversation.
So, for example, if the theme of the event is about entrepreneurship; you share what you did before becoming an entrepreneur and/or what made each of you want to become an entrepreneur.
You ask things like “how long have you been an entrepreneur?” “what made you want to work for yourself,” etc. But you don’t only listen to their response, you also share information, as if they asked “and you?”
To make the conversation even more interesting, switch to sharing opinions, not just facts. Sharing opinions, is the next step in getting a great conversation going, and getting to know each other.
Following the previous example, you’d ask “So, do you ever miss working for a boss, and just doing what you’re told. I mean, it’s certainly easy to have someone else be responsible of the business, and you only have to worry about your part.”
A statement like this inspires the other person to share what their opinion of the ups-and-downs of running a business, versus working for somebody else.
When you start sharing personal opinions, you’re no longer strangers, you’re approaching “acquaintance” territory; even if you just met the person
It’s the same thing with any subject, strive to get them sharing opinions, and contribute with your own opinion as well. As soon as you do that, you’re no longer strangers, you’re now approaching “acquaintance” territory; even if you just met the person.
3. Find Commonalities And Point Them Out
This is not the right article to explain why you need to find things in common with people. But know this: according to my experience, other people’s experience, and according to science, you absolutely need to find things in common with people; it’s the basis for building friendship.
As you share basic facts from your lives, and opinions about the subjects that come up; notice what you have in common with the other person or group you’re talking to.
Each time you find that you have the same opinion about something, or that you’ve been through a similar experience, or that you have a shared interest, or that you visited or lived in the same place, point it out.
Sometimes, the thing you share is too common, like, say, both of you visited New York. That’s too common, you don’t need to point that out.
Instead, point out things that aren’t common to everybody else where you live. For example, maybe you like to go to a certain place out of town to do a certain activity that many people haven’t thought of.
Maybe both of you think that one type of movies is over-rated while another is under-rated. That would be an opinion you have in common.
The more uncommon the thing you have in common, the more it brings you closer (and the more you can get excited when you point it out)
Here is a rule of thumb: The more uncommon the thing you have in common, the more it brings you closer (and the more you can get excited when you point it out).
4. Go Beyond Commonalities: Find Hook Points
The next step after finding things in common is spotting what I call “hook points.”
You generally do this when you’re talking to someone and realize that you’d like to meet them again, or they seem like an interesting person in general.
It starts with you finding out that you have something in common, talking about it for a while, then considering the idea of relating on it in the future. It can be an activity that you both like, so you consider maybe meeting and doing it together some time.
For example, maybe both of you like to go flying drones for fun. As you talk about where and when each of you generally does that… the idea of you meeting and enjoying it together is right around the corner.
It can be something more simple; like say you work in a sector that the other person is interested in joining. In that case, as you talk about it, the idea of both of you meeting later and going into more details is also, right there.
The easy way to take things further is to suggest the possibility of meeting later, to talk about or engage in the thing you have in common.
You say things like “Maybe we should do that some time!” As you’re talking about the thing you have in common.
5. Exchange Contact Information With Grace
This is an easy one IF you have found things in common, and felt that you could hang out later. It’s even easier if you have found a “hook point:” a possibility of sharing something you already do separately.
But even if you haven’t found an obvious reason to hang out later; you can just suggest to stay in touch.
Here are some thing you can say…
“Hey, we should stay in touch… do you have a card or something…”
“Maybe we’ll get around talking about that later, what do you think?…”
When you suggest staying in touch, you wait for their response. If they’re distant or reserved, then don’t press it further… maybe they’re not interested.
If instead they, too, are interested, they’ll just say “Yeah we should stay in touch!” At that point you can just exchange phone numbers or business cards, depending on the type of event.
You don’t have to directly ask for contact information – you can just suggest the possibility of meeting later, and see how they respond
Either way, you’re not ASKING for their contact information; you’re just suggesting a possibility of staying in touch.
If you have made sure to find and point out commonalities, it will feel much more natural to exchange contact info.
6. Follow-up In A Week, At Most
This is the next step to get things going further. Follow-up with them in a week at most, so they don’t forget about who you are.
Call or text. Tell them that it was nice meeting them. Mention something you’ve talked about; especially if it’s some activity you have in common; and suggest again that you could meet up and do it.
You can also suggest to meet later that week. Tell them that you’re planning to go grab coffee/lunch/a drink somewhere with a friend or group of friends; and that they’re welcome to join you if they’re available.
There is more to meeting and making friends. This article gives you the tools to start conversations with people you meet for the first time. Socially succesful people do it that way – it doesn’t have to be more complicated.
However, it does require some practice to get comfortable with the whole process: going from strangers to good friends.
To learn more techniques and principles on meeting people, making friends, and building a happy, fulfilling social life, consider reading the Get The Friends You Want eBook and the Advanced Social Skills Training.
– Paul Sanders