If you’re the type of person to hopefully pick up Dale Carnegie’s, ‘ how to win friends and influence people,’ only to find it outdated, boring and overall useless. Well then, you’ve come to the right place.
Now I can’t promise you the best advice for talking to new people. I’m pretty average at it myself. But I used to be worse so, I can promise you around 10 decently effective tips.
The adage – fake it till you make it. That’s good advice. Chances are if you’re in a position where you have to be talking to new people, you’re nervous. If you’re nervous, I’m willing to bet you won’t make great conversation.
But, if you play a soundtrack in your head, pull out your best acting chops and behave like the main character in a movie. Well then, you’re going to leave a decidedly different impression. Extra points if you decide that this is your character’s montage moment.
You see, the content of your conversation doesn’t matter as much as your attitude. If you pretend to be comfortable, you’ll probably trick yourself into being comfortable, and that will, in turn, make whoever you’re speaking to feel comfortable.
Intimidating as they are, groups are probably the best way to survive parties with new people. Do a survey when you enter a room – you will probably see one or two groups that you feel you will be able to hold a conversation with.
Now, to start a conversation you will need to do one of two things.
a) You could go up to the group and ask them for help with something. Maybe ask them for the time or whether you could use one of their phones to call someone.
b) option b involves waiting for someone to leave the group to do something else and approaching them with the same steps. The issue with this one is that there is a 50/50 chance that they may not take you back to the group with them.
This brings me to the next point.
Read the room
Anytime you’re in a scenario with new people, it’s always a good idea to spend a few minutes observing them. Of course, don’t be creepy about this, do it while getting refreshments or going to the washroom. Just scope out who you think is likely to be disinterested in conversation and who will engage.
The ideal people to start conversations with are those who seem to be standing on the fringes of groups or sitting alone but not really doing much. They may be scrolling through their phone and looking up every few seconds.
Now, we already touched on compliments a little bit but while an essential conversation starter it’s important that your compliments land correctly. That means they should leave a good impression and make the people you’re speaking to endeared by your presence.
Firstly, don’t give too many compliments. One or two is enough. Any more will seem disingenuous. Also, make sure to leave some time in between each compliment. If you’re in a group compliment each person there. This serves two purposes. It ensures that nobody feels left out and it also ensures that you have a purpose to keep the conversation running for longer.
Since you have a goal that you have to stick around and accomplish, you’re more likely to form a better connection to each individual in the group. And more importantly, they’re more likely to form a better connection to you.
Having said all of that, it is incredibly important that you be polite. While it is important to read the room before initiating conversation, it is also important to read the room while conversing. If someone is otherwise occupied and/or has a task to accomplish don’t hold them back. Let them go do their task. If you’re polite you may leave a good impression and they may come back to finish their conversation with you when they’re done.
However, if you don’t let them go, you’re destroying any chances of further conversation.
Give and take
Now that you know to be polite and back off, you should probably also know to be polite and keep quiet. When someone else is speaking that is. A lot of people, I included, have the wonderful habit of nervous chattering. Unfortunately, this can lead to new companions not getting an opportunity to speak. Or lots of interruptions as they are speaking.
This leaves a horrible impression and is very uncomfortable for the person you are speaking to. So, please learn to be quiet. Let the other person speak. Don’t interrupt and wait for them to finish a thought before commenting.
But, it’s also important to note that silence in the middle of a conversation between two people who have just met, is very normal. You can’t always expect the conversation to go very smoothly and sometimes there is silence. The important thing is to break the silence. For which you can use the following
A good tool for breaking silences. Question lists can be found on Tumblr or Pinterest or sometimes even blog posts. They’re a very good lubricant to have, keep a few questions memorized, and keep a few links to these lists in your notes app. People love to talk about themselves and once you’ve mastered the art of listening and providing insightful comments. You won’t even need to do much talking.
All you need to do is ask a relevant question, let them speak and ask follow up questions or provide a related anecdote.
A useful tool for keeping the flow of conversation, always have multiple random facts ready to spout. For example, maybe you’re speaking about the Great Gatsby and how it’s a very beautiful movie. You can add that, F. Scott Fitzgerald stole most of the story from his wife, Zelda Fitzgerald’s diary.
Speak Through your outfit
If you have a prior warning that you will have to meet new people, you can prepare. A good tactic is wearing something that will initiate conversation. Maybe a shirt with a quote from a tv show you’re interested in or a particularly interesting piece of jewelry.
Both will give people you are speaking to, insight into your personality and common ground to start or continue conversations with you.
Speak about an activity
If there is food, I have found that to be a great catalyst for conversation. Plating queues at banquets can lead to conversations about how long the line is and what dishes seem most interesting. The same can be said for mealtimes on planes, the meals tend to have similar elements such as the same salad. A good opening for a conversation on the taste of the item. A good factoid to throw in here would be that taste is very suppressed on a flight. You can then graduate to ask them where they’re heading, whether for vacation or pleasure etc.
But you have to be careful on planes, some people prefer to travel in silence. So even if you would very much like to talk, don’t do it if the person has their headphones on for 90% of the flight. Or if they seem to be trying hard to end the conversation. The last thing you want to come across as is rude. Mostly because you will feel very uncomfortable with yourself after.
All the best!