Start a conversation with strangers

How to Start a Conversation with Strangers

Talking to a stranger can be nerve-wracking, but it can also be fun to meet someone new. When you’re ready to make new friends or just talk to the people around you, start with a good conversation starter and build the conversation from there. If possible, have conversations in different situations so you can meet many people. Improve your skills and you’ll be talking to new people very quickly!

Seek contact and conversation

Make eye contact before addressing someone.

Eye contact shows interest and a connection. If the person returns your gaze, that’s a good start. Smile warmly and approach the person. If she looks away or seems disinterested, make eye contact with someone else. Make eye contact, but don’t look away too quickly or stare at the person. Maintain eye contact for no more than two seconds.

Rate the person’s body language.

Approach someone who doesn’t have their arms and legs crossed and isn’t busy or distracted by something else or another person. After the conversation starts, ensure that the other person leans towards you and actively participates in the conversation. Pay attention to the other person’s body language as you speak. Maybe you’re focusing too much on your feelings and not paying enough attention to the other person’s feelings. Change that and notice how the person looks at you and if they seem comfortable.

If you want to have a conversation.

It might be awkward if you ask a very personal question or a very deep one to start the conversation. Start gradually with a little small talk. Comment on the weather, ask about last weekend (or plans for the coming one), and show genuine interest in the answer. You can comment on the simplest little thing and build a conversation around it. For example, say, “I can’t believe it’s raining so much! I think I need an industrial-grade umbrella for that!”

Ask open-ended questions to find out something about the person.

Conversations are best started with open questions. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking to a stranger in the doctor’s waiting room, to the cashier at the supermarket, or to a cute boy you meet on a plane. You want to get to know the person, but you shouldn’t start with a personal question. Keep everything light and loose. For example, when speaking to the cashier, ask, “Have you tried this food product? How did you like it?”

Compliment the person if you like something about them.

Most people appreciate compliments, so this is a great conversation starter. Make a note about something you like about the person and say something nice. Compliments make people feel good and they are more open to conversation. Say, “I love your bag! It goes so well with your outfit!” If you want to flirt a bit, comment on the person’s eyes, smile, or hair. Say, “You have a pretty smile.” or “I love your hair color!”

Disclose something about yourself if you want the other person to feel comfortable.

Don’t tell a long story about your ex or your boring day at work. Instead, say something about yourself to start the conversation. When you talk about yourself, you show that you are open. This encourages the other person to be open as well. For example, say, “I’m getting a dog today, and I’m so excited. Do you have any pets?”

Find something in common.

The fastest way to meet a new person is to share an interest. You might notice something immediately (like a cap from the university you went to) or ask a question about hobbies if the person has boxing gloves or a gym bag. Then build the conversation on that. For example, say, “I like your bike! I have the same one. What year is it?” You can also say, “I noticed your dog. How old is he?”

Flee an unsuccessful attempt.

Some strangers like to talk to you, while others want their privacy. Don’t do it if someone is clearly disinterested, walks away from you, or gives you short and monosyllabic answers. Talk to someone else instead. You can thank the person for their time and then walk away.

Social event

Mingle with people to find out where you feel most comfortable.

Most people go to social events to have a good time. You have many opportunities to talk to people there, as most are open to conversation. Mingle with people and try to find someone you’d like to talk to alone. Opportunities will probably arise here without much effort. Talk to someone who is approachable and makes you feel good.

Ask the host or a mutual friend to introduce you to people.

Having a mutual friend makes a party or social event that much easier. If you know someone, get introduced to a new person and tell you something about them. This breaks the ice and the other party-goers will notice you. You can ask the person how they know your friend or where they met. For example, your mutual friend might say, “Aya, this is Annie. You both like mountain biking, and I thought you should meet.”

Ask questions related to the event.

The social event itself can be a good starting point for conversation. Ask someone how they found out about the event or who they still know here. You can also ask logistical questions like, “Do you know when kick-off is?” or “When does the speaker enter the podium? This is my first time here.” Approach someone and ask, “How did you find out about the party?” or “It’s hard to get an invite here. Who else do you know?”

Stick to food and drinks.

There’s a reason people meet over dinner. Food brings people together naturally. If you’re at a social event and want to talk to someone new, meet them near the buffet or ask if you can sit (or stand) next to them at dinner. Commenting on food and building a conversation from it is easy. Ask someone if they want a drink and get them the drink, or stand by the side of the buffet and strike up a conversation about the food. For example, you can say, “I like this drink. What do you think?” You can also say, “Wow, have you tried the bread? I recommend it. What condiment do you think that is?”

Join in other people’s activities.

If you see people starting a game or an activity, ask if you can join. Joining a small group of people will make you feel more comfortable and make it easier to talk to a specific person. For example, join them if people are watching a TV show or a movie together. Then ask, “What other TV series do you watch?” Find common ground to talk about.

Publicity

Offer your help

If someone looks lost and you know your way around, offer to give directions. Helping someone out is not only nice; it can get a conversation going. Maybe you’re going in the same direction and can walk together. Offer to help, whether it’s with someone who seems lost or needs help at the grocery store. You might make a new friend.

Ask where someone is from.

This can be a great conversation starter, especially in a big city or touristy location. It’s almost always interesting why someone moved here or came on vacation, and you can build a conversation based on that. For example, at a concert, ask the person next to you where they are from. It may have come a long way, or perhaps it came by accident.

Make your counterpart laugh with humor.

Humor is one of the easiest ways to connect with people, especially strangers. People feel more open and comfortable when they laugh. Point out something funny happening around you. Share this with someone you don’t know. Make a joke, comment, or reference something funny that you noticed.

Join an activity.

If you’re in a public place with many people, join an event or gathering. For example, if there is a drum circle, join in and make some music. If you see a street performer, stop and watch with other people. This is fun and can connect you with others who have also stopped. Then start the conversation about the shared experience. Go to free concerts and food festivals. Find out about events in your area and attend them to meet new people.

Professional environment

Comment something related to work.

When you meet someone at work, try to keep it professional and professional at first. You’re not trying to develop a friendship with someone because that looks and feels unprofessional, especially in a professional setting. Talk about work and what you have in common. For example, you can say, “We’re working on the same project together. Hello, I’m Mr. Miller.” In German-speaking countries, this is common.

Give someone positive feedback.

Suppose you notice someone’s good work, comment on it. If you disagree with someone, say it out loud. If you’re in a meeting, speak to the person after the meeting to agree or further discuss an issue. For example, say, “I love your presentation. I usually get bored, but yours was interesting and informative. Where did you find the videos?”

Avoid unprofessional topics that might put the person off.

Some subjects are rude or disastrous to strangers, especially in a professional context. For example, don’t approach a woman and comment on her pregnancy. Avoid political topics, religion, appearance (including weight), or overly personal topics (like your divorce or the recent death of your uncle). Keep conversations neutral and non-controversial. Choose neutral topics, like work-related events, conferences, and mutual friends.

About the Author

Frank Reid

Frank Reid is CouponKirin Contributing Writer. He covers a wide range of topics, including financial planning, car reviews, travel, entertainment, and lifestyle. He has an extensive journalistic background, where he's written and reported for several newspapers and magazines. Frank lives in New York, and is a native of Texas.