When my son was little, he was shy and somewhat reserved in new situations.
Unlike his older sister who would immediately jump into a new group at birthday parties or chat it up with my adult friends, my son would hold back and remain quiet until he felt more comfortable.
As he got a bit older and would go to sleepovers, participate in Boy Scouts and sports, and interact with more adults, he was increasingly involved in situations that required he introduce himself and speak up.
This was not a natural area of comfort for him at the time. Where some kids were obviously confident speaking to anyone, my son was simply more reserved and reticent to start a conversation, especially with an adult.
I remember talking with him about this and discussing how important it is in certain situations, especially when meeting adults, to confidently introduce yourself and make a bit of small talk. I knew mastering this skill would provide immediate positive results and give him a sense of self-assurance. And I knew it would pay off in the future throughout school, when he got his first job, or in any situation when making a first impression.
During our talk, I taught him to smile, look people directly in the eye, extend his hand, and have one or two questions or comments handy to engage the person he was meeting. I reminded him it would be uncomfortable the first few times he did this, but in time it would feel more natural and easy.
Over the next few years, I can't tell you the number of people who remarked to me, “Your son is so polite and poised. I was really impressed with the way he introduced himself.” Of course that made me feel proud, but also it gave me a great sense of comfort that he had mastered one of the most important skills anyone can have — the ability to confidently meet someone new and start a conversation.
For anyone who is reserved, shy, or feels uncomfortable in social situations, starting a conversation can be overwhelming. You feel self-conscious and awkward, and often the fear and anxiety is triggered just anticipating the situation.
One of the biggest concerns about meeting new people or participating in group conversation is not knowing what to say or fearing you'll embarrass yourself. But if you learn the four simple skills I taught my son (and that I follow myself), and you practice them in manageable and small situations, you'll eventually be able to start a conversation with ease.
Remember . . .
- look the person in the eye
- extend your hand
- have a few questions or topics of conversation handy to engage the other person
If you need some ideas for conversation topics, here are 30 you might consider.
Choose a few that resonate with you, write them down, and keep them in your wallet or purse for those times when you are in new social situations.
1. Comment on something positive about the person's appearance. “What a beautiful dress. Where did you get it?”
2. Remark on the event or the surroundings. “I've been looking forward to this party all week. How do you know (the host or hostess)?
3. If you know something positive or interesting about the person you are meeting, bring that up. “Jack told me you recently moved here. How do you like the area so far?” “I've heard you're an amazing tennis player. Do you play for a league?”
4. Bring up a current event. “Did you happen to see the hockey finals in the Olympics? What an incredible game.”
5. Ask about the person's career or profession. “So tell me what you do?” “You have an interesting job. How did you get into that?”
6. Remark about something funny or interesting that happened to you that day. “I have to share what happened on the way over here today.” “Did you notice the new restaurant on the corner? I tried it the other day, and it was fantastic.”
7. Bring up something you've recently read or a movie you've seen recently. “Have you read The Goldfinch? I haven't read such a great novel in a long time.”
8. Ask about the person's family. “Tell me what your children are up to these days.” “Do you have family in town?”
9. Remark on the person's name. “Barrie is such a different name for a woman. How did you get it?”
10. Say something about the weather (boring but effective). “Can you believe how much snow we've been getting? I've been trapped in my house for days. I'm so glad to get out!”
11. If you notice someone standing alone, approach them and introduce yourself. “Hi, I'm Barrie. I wanted to introduce myself. What brought you here today?”
12. If you want to join a group of people already talking together, approach them and wait for a break in the conversation and introduce yourself. “Hi, I'm Barrie Davenport. Do you mind if I join the conversation — you looked like you were having so much fun.”
13. Say something humorous or self-deprecating. “If I'd known there would be so many glamorous people here, I'd have worn my tiara.” “I'm sure glad I'm not cooking for this hungry crowd.”
14. Bring up one of your own hobbies or interests. “I recently got a new bike and ride every change I get now that the weather is nice. Do you ride?”
15. Comment on the food or wine. “Have you tried the pasta dish? It is delicious.”
16. Ask about the person's youth or past. “Where did you grow up?” “What did you do before you got into sales?”
17. Ask about alma maters. “Where did you go to college?” “Did you go to school here in the Atlanta area?”
18. Remark on something you've noticed the person doing. “I saw you talking to David. Did you know he recently bought a new house?” “I noticed you drawing in your journal. Are you an artist?”
19. Ask a question about travel. “So if you could visit any country in the world, what would it be?”
20. Ask about the person's day. “Did anything interesting or exciting happen in your life today?”
21. Comment on what you have planned for the week and ask the other person their plans. “I have to be in New York this week for a meeting. What do you have going on?”
22. Remark on a possession the other person has. “I love your car. What made you decide on a convertible?”
23. Ask a slightly disconcerting or funny question. “So tell me, what is the most spontaneous thing you've ever done?” “So if you had to have dinner with one politician, who would it be?”
24. Mention something you're working on, and ask for an opinion? “I'm working on an essay about climate change. What are your thoughts about it?”
25. Comment on the music playing. “I really love this song. U2 is my favorite band ever. What's your favorite kind of music?”
26. Follow up on a comment you heard the person make. “So I heard you say you were recently in London. Was that for business or pleasure?”
27. Tell a story or make a joke. “You know when I was younger, I was at an event just like this, and something really funny happened.”
28. Ask for help with a problem. “I'm trying to decide between a Mac and a PC. What do you think is the best option?”
29. Invite someone to open up and be vulnerable by doing it yourself. “You know I was really nervous about coming here tonight, but everyone here is so friendly.”
30. Take a risk to get to know the person better or have a second meeting. “I really enjoyed talking to you. Would you like to grab coffee sometime soon?”
Engaging with new people can be intimidating, but you can't allow fear and anxiety to prevent you from the joys of conversation and developing new friendships and relationships. It all begins with that first smile and introduction. Challenge yourself to initiate conversation by preparing with some of the topics I outlined, or come up with your own conversation topics to get the conversation started.
Do you have any favorite opening lines or conversation topics? Please share them in the the comments below.
photo credit: mark sebastian