Some people make it seem effortless… they glide across a room and, after just a few words, have kindled a warm conversation with a complete stranger. For the rest of us, however, starting a conversation may require more effort. Here are a few tips to make the process for learning conversational skills smoother and more painless for all involved.
- Body language. In a social setting, it could be argued that you convey more through body language than you do through words. At least, your message of openness and amity projects more broadly through body language. Body language is definitely important when trying to strike up a conversation. Try to keep your body relaxed and open rather than closed off and rigid. Don’t clench your fists. Don’t cross your arms; keep them loose and use them to gesture calmly. Instead of standing as upright as possible, adopt a slightly more casual, relaxed posture. When seated, don’t cross arms and legs. Engage with your eyes rather than looking down and away all the time. And let’s not forget the one body feature that can make or break a conversation – the smile. Smile as you begin to engage someone in conversation. It doesn’t have to be a creepy, unbelievably large smile, but a laid-back, casual smile communicates that you are friendly before you even utter a single word.
- Relate to the person. Figure out the common ground you share. Maybe you’re both sitting in the same corner, staring off into space. Maybe you’ve both had a little too much to eat, or can’t do the Twist. Maybe you’re both party orphans, the companions of invitees who have temporarily abandoned you. Or perhaps both of you are direct friends of a host, having never met previously. Ask about the person’s circumstances and find common ground.
- Humor. Many people have developed a type of armor (probably dating back to junior high) that they use in social situations to protect them from a number of unenviable circumstances. Consequently, they’re difficult to engage in conversation with those types of conversational skills. Your greatest weapon is humor. Laughter can warm up the most socially cold person; it tears right through the silly old social armor, and that’s a good thing.
- Conversation fodder. Keep current on world and local affairs. Or (as is currently the case) if all of the world news seems depressing beyond belief, you might want to come prepared with light-hearted oddball news stories that you can easily find online on any given day. This is not to say that serious topics and current affairs are off limits in social conversation, but merely that they don’t make for the best ice breakers.
- Stay away from hot-button religious and political issues till you know the person a little better. Your goal shouldn’t be to start a raging debate over abortion, gun control or the past indiscretions of a religious organization in the first minutes of a conversation, so good conversation starters shouldn't involve those topics. Even after you know a person far better, subjects such as these tend to sit poorly in a social setting, so you’re better off saving them for a time when you are in more private surroundings with a familiar person or group of people.
And let’s not forget the overarching guideline that makes all of these smaller guidelines possible – relax! Don’t mentally berate yourself for being socially awkward, because that berating will perpetuate your awkwardness. If you stay relaxed, then initiating a conversation will come far more naturally to you in any situation. Have fun!