Let’s face it, fewer moments are more awkward than trying to strike up a casual conversation with someone you don’t know very well. Here are some quick tips to lighten up the situation:
- Talk about who you know and what you have in common. Mutual friends, bosses, hometowns, etc.
- Ask relevant questions about life, work, hobbies, and pop-culture. Keeping abreast of current events will provide you with great conversation builders. Lead with “What do you think of…?”, “Have you heard…?”, “What is your take on…?”, etc. Stay away from negative or controversial topics, and refrain from long-winded stories.
- If you notice yourself getting bored with what you’re saying, stop talking, acknowledge the situation, and move on to the next topic.
- Listen more than you talk.
- With people you have never met before, limit stories to the last few moments of your life. Bring up casual points about your current surroundings, like the funny music playing in the background or the tasty martinis the bar is serving.
- Know a few interesting historical facts, like this one: As a child, Albert Einstein seldom spoke. When he did, he spoke very slowly – indeed, he tried out entire sentences in his head until he got them right before he spoke aloud. Einstein did this until he was nine years old. His parents were worried about his lack of talking. But at last, at the supper table one night, he broke his silence to say, “The soup is too hot!” Greatly relieved, his parents asked why he had never said a word before. Albert replied, “Because up to now everything was in order.”
- But realize that no one likes a person who thinks they know everything.
- Prolonged pauses are the best time for that interesting historical fact. Most people would rather listen to you talk about anything than listen to an awkward silence.
- Watch your body language. People who look ill at ease make others uncomfortable. Act confident and comfortable, even when you’re not.
- Let strangers interrupt you. They’re not being rude, they’re assisting you. Let them speak, and wait to be prompted before continuing your story. It’s usually a good sign that they are actually listening to you.
- If all else fails, just talk about the weather, which always gets people riled up (unless you live in Florida or Southern California).
- And have a few exit lines ready so, if needs be, you can both gracefully move on. For example, “I need to check in with a client over there,” “I skipped lunch today, so I need to grab a quick bite,” etc.
As long as you avoid anything personal, political, or controversial – at least during first encounters – and know which questions to ask, you’ll be talking the talk of certified socialite. Also, read Dale Carnegie’s classic, How To Win Friends and Influence People, for a great read on this topic.
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