Wizard of Oz characters chanting,

There are so many situations where success hinges on our ability to have a conversation with people we've just met.

While social butterflies might feel more comfortable striking up a conversation, we introverted folks sometimes need a game plan!

Tonight Show Jason GIF by The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon

Regardless of how you feel about social situations, follow these tips to become a great conversation partner!

1. Plan Ahead If You Can

There are some situations where you know that you will be meeting new people ahead of time, like:

  • Parties

  • Job interviews

  • Conferences

  • Dates

  • Retreats

Selma from The Simpsons telling Homer,

Some things you might want to think about before your meeting:

  • What sort of relationship do I want with this person?

  • What conversations or questions could I bring up based on what I know about them?

  • Is the situation we're meeting in more casual, or more formal?

2. Mitigate Social Anxiety

When meeting new people, there can be a lot of fear and pressure that you might not be able to think of anything to talk about, or that you'll be judged for being awkward.

The truth is that most people feel this way.

Chandler from Friends talking about his anxiety when he meets a new person.

If you have time before your meeting, incorporate some stress and anxiety relief techniques like deep breathing to calm your nerves a bit.

3. Pay Attention To Details

Look for details around you and respond to them if you're trying to think of things to say to someone. For example, you might talk about:

  • The environment you are in

  • Something you notice about the person, like a cool piece of clothing

  • What you and the other person are doing — for example, if you are at an event together

  • The reason you two have met

Someone pointing behind themselves saying,

Be an active listener by picking up on the details of what your conversation partner is talking about. Respond with ideas and questions that build off of what they've already said.

If you're at a loss, you can ask them general questions about themself or ask their opinion on something.

People like it when others show interest in them!

A person saying,

4. Look For Common Ground

Find things that you and your partner share in common. This will make the conversation more engaging and interesting to everyone involved. These commonalities can be a bridge to even more conversation.

Some potential things you might have in common include:

  • Hobbies

  • Sports teams

  • TV shows

  • Liking/disliking the same seasons or types of weather

Two Spidermen pointing at each other

You can also bring up current events to find more common ground.

However, avoid controversial topics until you know someone a bit better. Someone you're meeting for the first time might feel defensive or put on the spot by a divisive political issue.

A person saying,

Quiz

What conversation starter could you avoid when you're talking to a potential networking contact at a conference?

Their favorite presentation so far

The freak storm on the first day

The speaker with divisive opinions

The contents of the lunch buffet

5. Remember That A Conversation Takes Two

A conversation goes both ways. If someone isn't receptive, don't beat yourself up about it. They could be in a bad mood, or they could even be an unpracticed conversation partner!

However, if you do enjoy your conversation, make sure to reach out after the conversation is over to let them know you had a good time and that you valued the things you talked about.

Adam Sandler on the set of Saturday Night Live saying,

Take Action

Two people meeting, and one says, With a little bit of planning and practice, you'll be having great first conversations in no time!

Take these steps to prepare for the next conversation you have with someone new:

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This Byte has been authored by

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Silvan Spicer

higher education instructional designer