How to Start a Conversation with a Stranger

Four Methods:Conversing at a Party or ClubConversing in a Public PlaceConversing at a Music VenueIf It Doesn't Work Out

Have you decided to meet new people, but are a little shy or don't know how to make the first moves? If you see somebody you think might be interesting, and want to strike up a conversation, we'll show you a few tips on how to break the ice.

Method 1
Conversing at a Party or Club

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    Be casual. Everybody there is in the mood for a good time, and unless they're wearing a scowl that says, "Don't even think about invading my personal space," the person you want to talk to is probably in the same mood.
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    Catch their eye. If it's possible, try to make eye contact. If you do, you're off to a good start. Smile warmly, and make your way towards them.
    • If you can't catch their eye, work your way over to where they're standing, touch them gently on the shoulder as you cross in front of them. If there's somebody already standing in front of them, stand beside them.
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    Say something! It doesn't matter a whole lot what you say to get the conversation started. It's more about how you say it. If you can deliver the best opening line in the world with confidence, go for it!
    • If not, stick to something more basic, such as "Hi, my name's Mark," and offer to shake hands.
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    Start basic. Talk about how you ended up at the party, and ask them how they came to be there, too.
    • If the weather is remarkable, remark on it, but don't dwell. Weather conversations are generally short, boring, and indicate that you don't have much to say.
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    Find out what interests the other party. What sports and hobbies do they enjoy? What classes are they taking, and what's the end result? (Degree, job, etc.)
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    Listen. This is the key to good conversations. Being able to truly listen to the other person and asking questions about the things that interest them is not just a great way to make conversation, you may end up with a new friend as well.
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    Let the other person ask about you. Volunteer things like your name, and anything that's a good conversation starter such as "Hi, my name's Penny. I'd offer to shake your hand, but I broke my arm while rock climbing last weekend."
    • If there's something you happen to share with the other person—a sport, a love of food, a favorite political candidate, by all means, share. The goal is not to be silent, just do not introduce yourself to somebody for the sole purpose of talking about yourself.

Method 2
Conversing in a Public Place

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    Be selective. In public places, especially in larger cities, people are generally wary of strangers coming up to them with a big smile. "What are they selling?" is usually the first question on their minds. "What do they want? Are they muggers? Missionaries?" Some or all of these questions may run through their mind as you approach them, so think before you act.
    • If it's somebody who you have seen often—whether it's during break, on a subway platform, or on the street where you work—try to make eye contact without being too obvious about it (i.e., don't stare!). Make eye contact, smile in a friendly way, and then go do whatever it is you were doing in the first place. Unless you're playing with the tip of a knife as you make eye contact and smile, this will establish you in the "friendly" category.
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    Make eye contact before you approach. Because people are more wary in public places, if you come up behind them or they don't see you approach, you could startle them. By making your friendly intentions clear, you diffuse any possible tension that could arise.
    • Save your best pickup lines for the bar. Say something light, humorous, or topical to first break the ice. For example, "Hi, my name's Pat. I work over at Smithers and Burns, and noticed you are here often. Do you work in the neighborhood?" is simple, direct, and is open-ended enough to get a response, which can range anywhere from "Leave me alone," to "Hi, I'm Jan! I have seen you here too. Would you like to have a seat?"
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    Ask about what brings them to the same place as you on a regular basis. Chances are there are a lot of shared interests just waiting to be uncovered. Ask leading questions, and listen well to the responses.

Method 3
Conversing at a Music Venue

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    Make eye contact. Much like being at a party or club, try to make eye contact, but if that is not successful, don't be afraid to just walk up to somebody and introduce yourself.
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    Talk about the music. A good time to make your approach is between the opening act and the headliner. You can ask how they liked the opening band, or if you think they're a good match for the headliner. It's also a good time to talk because you won't have to shout or make them listen to you when they want to listen to the performers.
    • Ask them if they go to a lot of concerts, or if this was special. They could be avid concert goers, or following band, or may even personally know people in one of the bands. Chances are good that they will know a lot about the band or bands on stage.
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    Ask about other music. Find out what they like, musically, and who their favorite artists are. You can say things like "I think the guitarist is pretty good, but I like the guy from "Stapled Ear Drums" better.
    • Be wary of letting your inner geek out. It's one thing to offer a gentle critique, but can become very tiresome, very quickly if you say things like, "I find his reliance on modal scales, particularly phrygian and locrian modes applied to otherwise pedestrian pop derivatives then fed through loopers and flangers to be highly emblematic of...." Don't worry, you won't need to finish the sentence. Your formerly-potential-conversation-partner will either have fallen asleep or simply wandered off in a daze.

Method 4
If It Doesn't Work Out

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    Be aware. Look for signs, some more obvious than others, that your conversation is going somewhere. If there's no connection, you will recognize that instinctively. You will receive monosyllabic answers like "Oh, hi," when you introduce yourself, or a glib response like, "Not much." when you ask them what's going on.
    • If the person you want to talk to doesn't seem like they're interested in talking back, then don't force it. It could be that they're just having a terrible day, or it could mean they just don't want to chat with you.
    • If they're clearly distracted, looking for somebody or something, you have either picked the wrong time to make an introduction, or they are trying to suggest you leave them alone, without them having to force them to actually tell you they're not interested.
    • If you sense any of that, excuse yourself, wish them well. and be on your way.
    • If you still hope to strike up a conversation with this person, the better you're able to key in on their moods and looks, the more likely it is you'll be successful next time you make your approach.
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    Know when to fold 'em. If nothing is working, try again at a later date. If you get a similar or more hostile response the second time, do not make a third attempt. After two attempts, the person has a pretty clear idea that you're interested in talking to them. Let them make the next move.


  • A simple way that often helps strike up a conversation is to compliment the person, and then ask a question, e.g. "I love your top, where did you get it?"
  • You should look well groomed and presentable. First impression is everything.
  • If you are talking to other teenagers (or other adults), they generally like to talk about music, sports, TV, celebrities, video games, cool websites, etc.
  • Younger children like to talk about their toys, video games, music, TV shows, food, etc.
  • Sometimes, especially at school some people are scared of being judged at. Which is why you should try to make a nice face, not one you yourself would think look hard-to-approach.
  • Just be wary around strangers, as you don't know them all that well.
  • Don't be too forward--you don't want to look like you're attracted to the person.
  • When you approach someone try to smile. That may break some barriers if there is one.
  • Another point to keep in mind is to not smile so much that you look like a Cheshire Cat. That would be kind of weird.


  • Observe body language. You don't want to strike up conversation with someone who's angry or busy.
  • Don't ask any personal questions, such as "what is your address?" Instead, ask where the other person lives. This allows them to be as general or specific as they choose.
  • If you choose to introduce yourself, use only your first name. While you may have the best intentions, the stranger you've just met may not.
  • Don't swear.
  • Avoid touchy topics, such as religion, politics, sex, philosophy, world problems, death, divorce, and other potentially sensitive topics.

Article Info

Categories: Conversation Skills