Striking up conversations with people you don’t know can be difficult. If you aren’t good at chatting up strangers, you might dread going to parties, conferences or other social events. But once you get good at it, small talk is a lot of fun. It opens up opportunities for you to meet new friends and business partners. So, if you’ve been dreading small talk all your life, let’s talk about some things you can do to get over your fear.
1. Remember that you’re not the only one in the room who is nervous.
When you look out at a room full of people, it is easy to assume that all of them know each other in some way or another. This is rarely the case. Without a doubt, there are many people in any given social situation who share your social anxiety. Reminding yourself of this fact will ease the jitters in your stomach. If there’s someone you really need to talk to, go ahead and say “Hi”. If not, don’t sweat it. You’ll have other opportunities for socializing. Try to relax and enjoy the atmosphere.
2. Always introduce yourself.
At parties or conferences, don’t wait around until your contact introduces you to other people. If you see an opportunity to introduce yourself to someone, just walk over and do it. Your casual acquaintances might have forgotten your name, so it’s your responsibility to get the ball rolling.
When the person you are talking to tells you their name, you should repeat their name back to them. For example, if the person you’re talking to tells you their name is Bill, you can say “Hey Bill, pleased to meet you.” Once you’ve got the introductions out of the way, the conversation usually flows naturally.
3. Introduce your friends or someone else you know.
Introducing other people to each other is a great networking tactic. If you know someone else at the party or conference you are at, you can introduce them to your new contacts by saying something like “Hey Bill, this is my friend Steve. Steve is a fantastic cook and he has an amazing blog!”
4. Work on your body language.
Some studies say that more than 90% of all communication is nonverbal. If your body language isn’t congruent with the attitude you are portraying through your words, it will be obvious to other people. Crossing your arms, slouching and fidgeting are all signs of nervousness and will make other people uncomfortable around you.
When you’re talking to someone, hold your hands behind your back or down to your sides. Stand up straight and look them in the eye. This kind of body language shows them that you are listening and interested in what they have to say.
5. Do not discuss religion or politics.
Polarizing topics like religion or politics should be avoided like the plague, especially when you’ve just met someone. If your views offend their sensibilities, they might come away with a negative opinion of you. The only time you should discuss politics is if you’re at a political event with people who ascribe to the same ideology. Even then, you should be careful.
6. Ask questions that encourage conversation.
When you’re talking to someone for the first time, asking them questions is a great way to get them to open up. If you find out that they’re from a particular state or country, you might ask them how life is back home. You can even compliment them on something they’re wearing and ask them where they got it. Most of the time, people will ask you similar questions in turn, and this will get the conversation going.
7. Bring other people into the discussion.
If you’re talking to a group and you find that one or two people have been silent for the entirety of your conversation, try to get them into the fold. Extend a hand towards them and ask them casually what their opinion is on the topic of your discussion.
On the flip side, when you’re at a networking event or a party, you should try not to limit yourself to one conversation. Excuse yourself naturally and go around to meet some other people. You can always come back later and continue your conversation.
8. Be prepared for awkward silences.
Conversations have a natural ebb and flow, and sometimes a topic runs its course, leading to uncomfortable silences. In such a situation, you should always have a list of things to talk about so that you can reignite the conversation. TV shows, movies and local sporting events are usually safe topics to bring up if there’s a lull. If you’re new in town, you could ask for recommendations for things to do or places to visit.
9. Have an airtight exit strategy.
Sometimes, casual conversation runs its course and you have to exit the situation. You should always depart the scene gracefully. If you’re in a group, you could say something like “Hey guys, I’m going to head over to the bar for another drink.” If you’re having a one-on-one conversation, you could say “Hey Bill, it was really nice to meet you. Stay in touch.” Shake hands, offer them your business card or phone number if the situation demands it, and walk away.
In summation, small talk is an art that can be learned even if you aren’t any good at it currently. Using the aforementioned tips will have you striking up casual conversations effortlessly.
by Rohit Raut