Baby steps to starting a conversation

Have a plan of action to break the ice in those first few moments
We all know people who can approach anyone and strike up a conversation, or those who can walk up to a table of guests at a wedding and seem instantly at ease. Not you? You’re not alone. Like any social skill, breaking the ice doesn’t come naturally for everyone.If you feel nervous meeting new people or get tongue-tied when trying to come up with something clever to say, it can help to have a plan. Prepare a few openers and strategies to keep the talk flowing, and you needn’t panic when meeting someone new, or chatting with someone seated next to you on public transportation.

In an article on Verywell Mind, Kendra Cherry presents an elegant system designed to prepare the would-be ice breaker.

Her method starts with preparation: have an idea of conversation topics beforehand and try a dry run with a trusted friend. Cherry advises avoiding offensive, uncomfortable and controversial topics when starting a conversation. All of those can stop a conversation in its tracks.

Maintaining a positive, curious attitude is important, as is having a couple of simple, go-to starter statements ready before setting out. “Not every great conversation needs to begin with a deep, philosophical, earth-shattering observation,” says Cherry. Keep it simple. The idea is that if you can get through a few easy-breezy openers, the conversation will progress naturally. And, according to a study she cites, deeper conversations lead to deeper happiness.

Other things to keep in mind are to keep your body language relaxed and open, and maintain comfortable eye contact. (It’s OK to look away from time to time.) Listen carefully and ask questions about what has been said. The emphasis should be on the other person.

“A real conversation always contains an invitation. You are inviting another person to reveal herself or himself to you, to tell you who they are or what they want.” – David Whyte

In How to Start a Conversation on SocialPro, David Morin and psychologist Daniel Wendler lay out an exhaustive list of conversation starters for several potential scenarios, including parties, work, dating, and dinner. The idea is to use these suggestions as springboards, helping get you to the next step. They’re definitely basic (“How do you know people here?” and “What department do you work in?”) but will come in handy for the typically tongue-tied.

The authors offer plenty of easy one-liners for getting started. And they delineate more finesse-filled strategies for following up on something you observed or asking about the place or situation you’re in, rather than grilling a conversation partner with direct questions about themselves. A few more ideas from Morin and Wendler include:

  • Infuse your conversation with a mix of questions about others and sharing about yourself.
  • Use open-ended questions to keep the conversation lively.
  • Make a positive remark about the environment you are sharing to signal friendliness and openness.
  • Use your senses to offer an observation about your shared environment.

Follow these tips and you’re likely to feel less overwhelmed at the idea of meeting new people.