How to Talk to Someone You've Never Met

Two Parts:Small TalkExtending the Conversation

Talking to strangers doesn't have to be like pulling teeth. Don't wait too long to make your approach. Take a deep breath, think of a good opening, and go talk to the person! Try a simple "Hey, I'm [your name]!" Make a witty or helpful comment about something that's going on around you. Ask simple questions about where the person comes from, what they do, or how they came to know a mutual friend of yours. Begin with small talk, ask authentic questions, and let the conversation naturally bloom into something interesting. Remember: odds are that this person is just as nervous about talking to a complete stranger!

Part 1
Small Talk

  1. Image titled Myriam Laroche Aveda Eco Fashion Week – Opening Gala Feb 2011
    Think of an opener. If you're going up to someone and planning on talking to them, you need a conversation starter. A conversation starter will reassure the person that you follow social cues, you're friendly, and are genuinely interested in them.
    • Don't always overthink it. A simple "Hello, how are you?" or "Nice day, is this seat taken?" work really well. Simple is best.
    • Comment on something that's happening around both of you. Maybe you're both at the mall, and she's shopping for shoes. You can go up to her and say: "Those are nice shoes. They'd look great on you." But don't get in their comfort zone.
    • Ask a question about something that's happening around you. Ask for directions to the library (and pretend you're going); ask for the time (and pretend you're busy); or simply ask them if they know of any lunch/dinner spots nearby.
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    Try a bit of small talk. Small talk gets a bad rap, but it shouldn't. Small talk tells us a lot about the other person, and hopefully leads to more meaningful conversation. But it's a step along the way.
    • Ask the person what they do for a living and tell them what you do. Having a discussion about your jobs isn't the most tantalizing conversation (unless you're a professional skydiver or underwater explorer), but it can be interesting to see what other people do for a living.
    • Ask the person where they grew up. "Did you grow up around here?" is a perfectly fine small talk question. "What was the city you grew up in like?" is a great follow-up question if they didn't grow up nearby.
    • Ask about their hobbies. A good way to frame this question is: "So, what do you like to do in your free time?" Hopefully they have exciting hobbies and fun stories to tell.
    • Don't talk about the weather, whatever you do. No one really cares about the weather, and it's a sign that you're trying to make small talk without being personal. Instead of relating to the rain or sun, try relating to the person you're talking with.
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    Be funny if you can. Lots of people think they're funny or witty when they actually aren't. If you regularly get sympathy laughs from your friends, or crickets from strangers, when you try to be funny, don't make an effort here. If you're actually a funny person, don't be afraid to let some jokes fly.
    • Don't go overboard. This person doesn't know your sense of humor, and is probably still trying to figure out whether she or he likes you. A couple off-color jokes and your opportunity to impress them is probably long gone.
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    Pay attention to your body language. Body language says a lot about us. It can betray us when we're bored, anxious, excited, happy, or sad. Be sure you're sending your new potential friend the right vibes with your body.
    • Maintain good eye contact. Look the other person in the eye, at least some of the time, when you talk. Don't stare at your feet or off into the distance.
    • Smile periodically. You don't have to have a smile plastered over your face the whole time, but make an effort to smile sincerely, even if that's not how you're feeling inside.
    • Keep your hands under control. Don't fidget with them. More importantly, keep your hands off the other person. Remember: They don't know you yet, and you don't want to come off as too friendly.
    • Talk slowly and laugh at their jokes (even if they're not that funny). Calm yourself down by talking slowly. It'll seem like it sounds weird, but it actually sounds normal. Do them a favor and laugh at their silly jokes, even if they're bombs.

Part 2
Extending the Conversation

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    Don't forget to share information about yourself. You don't always need to wait for the other person to ask you a question in order to talk about yourself.
    • Relate experiences they talk about to experiences you've had.
      • If the other person talks about having gone skiing over the weekend, you can say: "Well, I'm jealous. I tried going last December but we had a white-out after a nasty blizzard rolled through. How was the powder?"
    • Offer information that fits the flow of the conversation. A lot of the time, you can get away with non-sequiturs simply because you move the conversation forward:
      • If the other person is talking about their horrible in-laws, you can say something like: "I know, getting to know my in-laws was pretty rough. There's a funny story, actually, about my wedding night, when my dad mistook my father in-law for the bartender...."
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    Tell stories. Stories offer other people a chance to take a break from talking while encouraging them to open up as well. Telling stories that encourage more conversation is all about striking the perfect balance between excitement and humility. Tell a riveting story, but don't get cocky.
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    Try to find something you have in common. There's something bonding about having gone through the same thing or experienced something special together. We want others to understand us, and finding commonalities is a way for other people to understand us.
    • Socially acceptable commonalities to talk about include: school (any level), birthplace, role models, personal preferences (favorite foods, travel destinations, movies, sports teams etc.), backgrounds, goals, and many more. If, for any reason, you feel like the person might be threatened by your finding a common experience, shy away from discussing it.
    • Stay away from religion and politics. While religion and politics are acceptable topics to talk about, they're considered "hot button" issues and often provoke strong emotional responses. Wait until the third or fourth meeting to jump into religion and politics.
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    Be sincere. It's okay to joke around a little bit, but sincerity should be one thing you offer the person throughout your conversation. Being sincere tells the other person you're showing them the real you. It's a little bit of an olive branch, a gift of trust.
    • If you do joke around a lot, follow up your jokes with phrases like "No, to be perfectly honest," or "I'm kidding, if you want to know the truth...." These phrases show an ability to switch seamlessly between being funny and being sincere.
    • It's okay to be vulnerable, if you don't feel vulnerable about it. What does this mean? It means it's okay to share something you don't normally share with people (cancer diagnosis, fear of open spaces, etc.) if you don't act scared, bothered, or intense about it. In fact, people like it when you're vulnerable in a calm, collected way. It shows them how "real" you are.
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    Know when to end the conversation. A conversation is like a date: There's a beginning, middle, and end to it, and it shouldn't go on forever. Know when it's time to end the conversation and potentially move onto the next one. Ending the conversation is natural thing to do; it does not mean that you failed.
    • If you manage to talk for 15-30 minutes with someone you've never met before, you've done a great job. You'll probably start running out of things to say or questions to ask, which is normal. End the conversation by saying "Well, it was nice meeting you. Maybe we can talk again sometime?" and exchange phone numbers if the other person seems interested.
    • If you manage to talk for more than 30 minutes, you've really hit it off with this person. You probably share a lot of similarities and you mesh well together. This does not mean, however, that you should talk through the night or monopolize all of their time. If the conversation is flowing naturally, keep with it. If the conversation starts petering out, look for ways to gently say goodbye. Since you hit it off, you'll always have another opportunity to talk again.
    • Friendships take time. You probably won't walk away from any first conversation thinking you've earned a friend or made an enemy. These things take time. Hang out with the people you have good conversations with. It might take weeks, months, or even years before your friendship is cemented.


  • If they appear uncomfortable, then give them space and slow down.
  • Practice smiling and saying "Hello" with every stranger you meet. You will be surprised how many people respond positively. This will build your comfort level and help you be more relaxed. And you may make more new friends in this process.
  • Remember what they say, and refer to it next time you talk to them. That will show you paid attention.
  • As you get to know someone, they become more comfortable with you. The secret is to never push their comfort level.
  • Never ask about too personal information, like their crush, or they may feel uncomfortable when speaking to you.
  • Remember; the person you are talking to is probably shy, too.
  • Don't take it personally if the individual is arrogant, sarcastic, immature, or otherwise rude in his/her initial reply. This is a sign of emotional immaturity and is usually a maladaptive defense mechanism. Confident, self-actualized people will always remain polite yet assertive even when approached by someone they don't have the least bit of interest in talking to. Simply laugh it off as if they told a joke and move on, paying them no more attention. They didn't tell a joke, of course: they were the joke.
  • Laugh at their jokes.
  • T-shirts with sayings, buttons for political or social causes, any open message they're wearing is a natural conversation starter. If you have that topic in common with them, compliment the shirt or button and talk about that topic. If you disagree with it violently, be careful to avoid the subject or be patient and agree to disagree if they bring it up. They wouldn't wear it if they didn't care. Or they'll explain. "Oh this? It's my roommate's shirt, he's on about this cause and I borrowed it because I needed a clean shirt."
  • Start talking to them from a safe distance, but not so far away that they cannot hear you. As they become more comfortable, you can move closer.
  • If they are already speaking with somebody else, consider whether they would want you to break in to that conversation. Generally, if people are standing in a closed circle or making direct eye contact, the group is not ready to welcome newcomers. If they stand with a space in the circle, that is usually an invitation for others to join the group.
  • Be calm when communicating; take a deep breath before walking up to the person you want to speak with.
  • Pay attention to their body language. It says a lot.
  • Try to look at what they're wearing, and build a conversation around that. If you notice they have a jersey on, ask if they're into sports. If they have a button-up shirt, ask if they like books. Then tell about yourself.
  • Maintain eye contact and look interested in what they're saying.
  • Don't ask them questions that are too personal like "Where do your parents work?" if you're just acquaintances.


  • Don't hesitate before you approach, either do it casually or move on. It comes off very creepy to have somebody eyeballing you for several minutes before they walk over.
  • Some people are shy and may not want to talk to you. People like this do not mean to be rude and you should not take it personally - they are just afraid of talking to strangers.

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