To master social skills, you need to learn to start a conversation in important social situations. You can practice starting conversations with strangers, friends and friends of friends. The more you practice, the better you get.
Getting started is always the hardest part, as it sets the tone and takes the initiative for the exchange to come. Here is a guide to all you need to know about starting conversations in different contexts.
Table of contents
- Rules For Starting Conversations
- Start A Conversation With Strangers At A Networking Event
- How To Start A Conversation At Parties
- How To Start A Conversation With A Group Of People
- Start Conversations With Extra Confidence
Some Ground Rules For Starting Conversations
It’s never about those first few words you utter. These are not what starts the conversation. They just prepare for what you say afterwards, which in turn determines whether or not you’ll have a conversation or not.
What you say next will help to fully initiate the conversation – so keep calm – you won’t ruin your chances in the first few moments.
Also, you don’t have to get stuck in the conversation: just because you start a convo, you don’t have to commit to it for the next hour. In fact, you can end the conversation after just 5 seconds.
Once you realize this and you know that there is always an easy exit you will feel less stressed about starting the conversation in If anything goes wrong (they’re too distracted, they don’t want to talk, they have a weird reaction,…) you can always say “Ok great ! have a good day/enjoy your evening” and walk away.
Finally, don’t sell yourself short: just by starting the conversation, you are likely doing someone a favor. Most likely, other people want to have new conversations and meet new people. It makes their day (if not their entire week) more interesting.
Starting a conversation has value in and of itself. It’s a gesture of goodwill or an act of kindness if you do it right.
There is practically no wrong way to start a conversation: unless you’re coming off too strong, interrupting the whole group, taking too much space, being too loud, barging into a group conversation, making others feel concerned for their safety, or being completely inappropriate… if you’re not doing that, then you’ll be alright.
The more often you start conversations, the faster you improve.
Why The Skill Of Starting Conversations Is Essential
Human beings are social creatures. Therefore, what is most essential about the skill of conversing is a sense of belonging it creates. When we can start conversations we can enter a social world that could enliven our days and fulfil our hopes for the future. Just think of these possibilities for starting conversations – you could:
- Make an interesting stranger instantly want to be friends with you
- Turn a casual friend you like, into a real, close friend
- Make a friend of a friend want to see you again (they would call your mutual friend and tell them that you all should hang out again)
And the possibilities are even greater than this:
- Imagine you’re with a group of very interesting people… and you’re a friend like anybody else… then all of a sudden you gain ten points in respect and admiration. Just because you said a few words, everybody just realizes how valuable you are to the group.
- By saying a few words, you introduce two groups of friends to one another. Then create social experiences and adventures that are so exciting and so positive that your entire family and acquaintances start to wonder how you got access to such a great social life.
- You could inspire someone to decide that you could be a business partner, or that you could maybe work together in the future, and start to take you seriously. Again, just because you said a few words.
You may think that your skill of starting conversations has to do with starting conversations with strangers.
That’s true, but it’s only a part of it. Your skill in starting conversations also helps you…
- Re-start conversations that broke off before
- Reconnect with long-time friends
- Turn a casual friendship into a close friendship
- Bring life into a friendship that was about to wither and die
- Make friends of friends want you in their social circle
- Get everybody excited to talk and turn a dull evening into an exciting time with friends
- Show your personal qualities that make everyone realize your value and want to talk to you more
This skill for starting conversations can be leveraged. You only say a few words, but they have so much impact: you get more friends, get better friends, expand a social circle, and be that valuable person everyone’s glad to have around.
Start A Conversation With Strangers At A Social Or Networking Event
Potentially more challenging are the conversations you need to start with strangers at an event. You may be at a party or you may be at a conference. Either way, you are going to be expected to take the initiative to start a conversation. Here is a guide to how to make this first step in building connections with others.
Prepare your frame of mind
It’s much easier to start conversations when you know why you’re doing it in the first place. It needs to be an action inside the context of why you showed up to the social gathering. In general, you’re there to have a good time, get to know some new people, and stay in touch, and make friends.
Just by knowing that at the back of your mind, it makes much more sense and it serves a frame for your conversations. This makes it more appropriate (inside your mind) and natural to start conversations, even with people you don’t know.
Say hi and introduce yourself
It is vital to get comfortable with the trinity of comments that start most networking conversations: “Hi… my name is so and so… nice to meet you!” You should practice this approach at least ten times as soon as you can.
Once you become comfortable with this trinity, it will serve you well. When you use it, people just assume that it’s natural for you to talk to strangers and you’re a very social person. It puts them at ease in getting to know you.
Alternatively, comment on something they’re doing, wearing or saying (but only if it’s genuine)
“I’m sorry, are you guys talking about yesterday’s game? (…) That was amazing, wasn’t it?… Especially when…[continue with why it’s so interesting and intriguing to you.]”
“Oh, that’s a nice dress – what do you call that shade of green? Military green?” “(to someone wearing a Denver, Colorado t-shirt) Denver? Are you from Denver?… [then say why that’s interesting to you]”
Use this strategy only if you are genuinely interested in what they’re wearing, saying, or doing. You do not want to appear unauthentic, as it will leave an awkward feeling to the dynamic.
Talk about the context – what brought you together
When you start a conversation, you should begin with something that you share in common. It is easier to start the conversation by talking about where you are and the reason you are there.
Once you have initiated the conversation, you can expand to other topics and go off on tangents. From this beginning, you can then start to share details fro your lives and move beyond the initial focus of what brought you together in the first place.
For example, you may be attending a wine tasting. You will start the conversation talking about wine, it is only natural. You may move on to talk about your preferences – whether it is Italian or Spanish wine.
From this starting point, you could easily move on to talk about your experiences in Europe and why you love travelling and more.
In a networking context, it can be even easier, as there will be a shared topic for the event or a shared profession. For instance, you may be at a marketing event and you have presented on social media marketing.
You can then start every conversation in the room by using ideas from your presentation and seeking valuable feedback. From this start point, you can then guide the other person to share the concerns that matter to them.
Get outside the context
Once you have used the context to start conversations, you then need to transition onto topics outside the context. You can begin by expanding on the initial topic, but then working to move beyond this.
You can start by looking at the past and the future, for you and for them. This strategy will allow you to learn more about them and they about you.
If you are talking about wine, you can expand by asking what wine you have enjoyed in the past.
You could take it into the future by asking if they have plans to go on other wine tasting trips or adventures From a simple starting point, you can go from that superficial easily interruptible conversation, into something much more interesting.
In the professional context, you can expand to the past and ask things like, “How long have you been using social media marketing professionally; how long have you been tracking your social media statistics”?
You can expand into the future and ask things like, “Are you planning to expand the budget or are you more hesitant about that, do you think it’s worth it to hire someone to manage social media?”
You’re just trying to expand beyond the here and now but on the same subject. This is a great way to transition from the subject that brought you together onto other things.
You can also expand into other subjects for specific reasons. There will be topics that you share in common that move beyond this initial context. The more you talk, the more likely you are to find these areas of shared interest.
Bring some enthusiasm to make the conversation stick
Enthusiasm is a vital ingredient for moving a conversation from early beginnings. You need to get the right level of enthusiasm to appear interested without appearing too full on.
So, when you are listening to something they are sharing, you can show an eagerness to know more through eye contact and the use of questions.
Equally, when you are talking about something, you need to say it as if it is the first time you have explored the idea. You need this level of interest in your ideas, as this is the first time the other person is hearing what you have to say.
Mention the first few things in common you have with them
Again, with exactly the right level of enthusiasm and emphasis, point out how you clearly have things in common with the other person. When they mention something that you have an interest in, note this.
Show a degree of excitement at the shared connection and encourage the other person to make this connection in more depth. If you exaggerate this common experience, you could appear desperate. It is therefore important to get the tone just right.
Start A Conversation At Dinner Parties With New And Old Friends
For some people, a dinner party is a difficult time. Making small talk is challenging. You must have been part of a discussion about who should be sat next to whom, and why.
Usually, there is at least one person who is difficult to seat around the table because they struggle to keep the chat going. Here are some hints and tips to help you if you are sat next to this person, or you fear you are this individual.
Remember why you’re there
It’s always good to remember why you’re socializing with a group – especially if you’re feeling nervous about it. In this situation, your purpose would be to reconnect with existing friends, show them that you care, share a few laughs, and deepen the friendship.
You’re also there to meet their friends you haven’t met yet – give those new friendships a chance to be created, and have fun with everyone. Remember that purpose as you go to socialize. Your purpose serves a frame for everything you do while socializing.
Catch up with existing friends
When things get tough, go back to the subjects you discussed last time. If you have socialised with these people before, you know what’s important to them. It may their significant other, their kids, job, business.
They may be interested in sports or a hobby. What do they care about? This is where you can start the conversation or move the chat onto next if you are struggling.
Talk about how things are right now
Small talk often acts as a catch up on what you’ve been doing lately. You can chat about how your week has been, what you’re doing next week, etc… Then, maybe move on to any travel plans you have coming up soon, any projects you’re about to start, etc.
If you are genuinely worried about what to talk about, you can spend some time thinking about these sort of things that you can share.
With those people that you don’t know
If you are sat with a stranger, you should start by introducing yourself. This is expected and is the appropriate thing to do. You can also quickly ask about their occupation. This might seem boring, but it’s not at all. It just gives more context to what you’ll say next to each other – and cements the idea that you’re getting to know each other.
Ask how do they know the host?
If you are at the same dinner party, then you know you have one thing in common: the host. Get some context for what they’re doing there, who they know, etc. Then, share that same info from your side: how you know the host, etc.
Maybe share one or two funny things about your relationship with the host: “(…) yeah, so John is nice enough to cook for everyone tonight. He said he’s found a great recipe for Swiss tartiflette – I’ve never tasted his food so… crossing my fingers!”
Talk to the people on the other side of the room:
Don’t plant yourself in one place the whole time or turn your head in one direction at the dinner table. You can go to the other side of the room or talk across the dinner table. If you know them you can just say “so what’s up…” if you didn’t know them that much, then pick up from where you left off as you were getting to know each other like: “so how was the food?… would you give a Michelin star to our friend John?” or “So, Hannah, you said you had a side business on Etsy… what was it that you sell exactly?…” or “Oh hey, my name is so and so, (…) nice to meet you,… we didn’t get the chance to meet earlier… so what do you do, (their name)?”
How To Start A Conversation With A Group Of People
Is there anything more daunting than approaching a group of people and trying to include yourself in the conversation? There is a chance that you could end up lingering awkwardly on the periphery, or worse, you start to speak and they ignore your presence.
Like with all aspects of conversation, you just need to do this often to get good at it. The more you feel you can approach a group and start to speak, the easier it will get. Here are some tips to help you get started.
How to join the conversation without interrupting
In general, you want to start the conversation when you sense that they’re not 100% engaged. In other words, you don’t wanna join in the middle of a story, especially if you don’t know them that well.
If you do know the group, you can still join while they’re very engaged and focused, and I’ll share with you how to do it in a moment.
But in general, remember that the easiest most appropriate time to start a conversation with a group is to wait for them to be on a casual conversation mood instead of a hyper-focused mood.
Another way to join without feeling like you’re interrupting is to join by uttering something exactly on-topic. Like “Oh, you guys are talking about that movie! That’s cool…”
If you don’t know anybody in the group…
To start conversations with a group of strangers, you need to be in the right context. Some social events, networking events actually encourage meeting new people. Sometimes that is exactly the purpose of the event: talking to people you don’t know. That’s where you want to be.
When talking to a group in a context like that, try and use exactly the same techniques I shared with you about starting conversations with an individual. The only difference is that you need to be a little louder when you introduce yourself.
You usually don’t have to shake everybody single person’s hand, just stand in a place as if you’re completing the circle. A safe bet and a way that usually works is to ask about their relationship to the event or social gathering.
For example, right after you say hi and introduce yourself, you can ask “Have you guys been coming to these events for a long time (…) [then continue talking about the context you’re in].”
If you know at least one person in the group…
The advantage of knowing someone in the group is that you can start talking to the group, even if they’re in a moment of being super focused on what is being said.
If that’s the case, you can just join on the side of your friend, say “Hey” and quietly stand there for a moment while smiling and listening. Once the story is finished or the important topic comes to a close, then it’s time for your friend to introduce to everyone else.
If it’s a rather low-key conversation, then you just join them by saying “Hey [your friend’s name]…” and then turning to the others, shaking their hands and introducing yourself.
If you know them all…
When you know everyone in the group, you should find this the easiest situation to approach. Just greet them as you usually do. Again, if the conversation is completely engaging, then join on the subject or wait for the topic to run its course.
You’ll be able then to catch up as people start to turn to you to ask how you’re doing, etc.
Remember, always keep smiling. You’re happy to see them, you’re happy to see some new faces, you’re happy to make new friends. Always keep positive and self-sufficient confidence.
How Start Conversations With Extra Confidence
The goal of this article is to get you to a level of skill that is beyond average and beyond just “okay.” In order to improve your skill, and have starting conversations a thing that’s natural to you, you need some practice.
Here are a few tips for you:
Humility is a secret weapon that successful and confident people use in social situations. They don’t show their cards too quickly, they’re not eager to impress anyone. They keep that humility and they keep their cool.
It sends a message that says “I know my value, I don’t need to flash it.” Humility doesn’t mean weakness, it’s instead reassured confidence.
It’s knowing who you are, what your story is, and where you’re going with your life. It means being comfortable introducing others to yourself and giving a chance to those potential friendships to be created.
Raise your standards
Don’t engage in any interactions or friendships where you won’t be adding value to each other and elevating each other. Once you know that – one you know that in all your friendships, you just give and receive value, then something interesting happens.
You never feel like you’re begging for anybody’s attention or trying to “get something” from others. You feel more powerful than before, especially if you have those limiting beliefs like I used to have like: “Why would any group of cool people talk to me?! They know I need them more they need me!
Get rid of the awkwardness
when trying to master any new skill, the first few times you try it will be uncomfortable and a little weird. That’s okay. I would recommend that you try it in low-key, low-impact social situations.
For example, go to social events that you know aren’t that interesting to you: you can practice all you want, you know you’re not gonna go back there again and probably don’t have much in common with those people.
So just practice being friendly – even if you have minimum interest in what the event is about. You can also practice while travelling – you know you won’t see those people again, start conversations as often as you can. Once you do that, that initial awkwardness just goes away.
Get Others To Start A Conversation With You
There are times when you are talking to an individual when you want to encourage participation by a group. You can encourage others to join your conversation by speaking louder, so they have the opportunity to pick up on keywords that they would find relevant.
Use your body language to show that this is an open conversation and not something more private. Smile at other people and use eye contact to engage others around the room.
Sometimes, you can use your voice and body language as if you’re talking to your friend and the people nearby as if they were all in the same group already. Make sure it’s appropriate because you’ll need to raise your voice a little bit and direct your body to the center, as if your addressing a bigger audience.
This can be fun and shows that you’re social – just make sure you don’t come off as obnoxious. This works especially well if you sense that the people nearby want to join in on the conversation. By acting subtly as if they’re already part of the group, you’re giving them an opportunity to comment on what you’re talking about.
There are so many techniques for starting that conversation in different contexts. Working with what you already know, using your surroundings and drawing others into the chat are all successful strategies.
Remember, starting a conversation doesn’t mean committing to an hour-long in-depth discussion – you can have a quick exchange and move on. Equally, if you make an error and the conversation doesn’t quite kick off as you hoped, then move to the next person and try again.
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