How to Talk to Strangers

Three Parts:Managing Your AnxietyTalking to a StrangerAdjusting to Your Specific Context

Walking up to people you don't know and striking up a conversation is the social equivalent of skydiving. It's fun and interesting, but risky. It might also change your life. If you make the effort despite your fears about talking to strangers, you might accidentally have the time of your life. So, read on aspiring social skydiver....

Part 1
Managing Your Anxiety

  1. Image titled Talk to Strangers Step 1
    Practice until talking to strangers is second nature.[1] The best way to overcome social anxiety is by confronting it head-on. Talking to strangers is like any other skill: the more you do it, the better you get at it. With enough practice, it will feel completely natural to you. You won't even have to think about how to manage conversations with strangers. The best way to practice is to set weekly goals. [2]
    • Don't overwhelm yourself! If you find talking to strangers overwhelming, take it slow at the beginning. You might begin by promising yourself that you'll talk to two strangers in a week. Add one person each week.
    • Keep pushing yourself, though! There's a fine line between taking on too much and not taking on enough. While you don't want to overwhelm yourself, you also don't want your fear to hold you back. Get out of your comfort zone.
  2. Image titled Talk to Strangers Step 2
    Attend social events by yourself. That’s right — don’t invite anyone along. Put yourself in a social situation where you won't know anyone else. Without any friends to hide behind, you'll be more likely to put yourself out there. Keep these outings low-stakes. If you don't talk to anyone the first couple times, that's fine! You still went out and were among strangers, which you never would have done before! Look for events around town where you'll be able to start conversations with strangers:
    • Art shows
    • Book readings
    • Music concerts
    • Museum exhibitions
    • Outdoor festivals
    • Geek gatherings
    • Parades/rallies/protests
  3. Image titled Talk to Strangers Step 3
    Ask a friend to help.[3] If the idea of talking to a stranger on your own is too much, enlist the help of a more outgoing friend. With her help, you can practice talking to strangers while still having a familiar face to make you feel comfortable.
    • Don't let your friend carry the entire conversation, though. Make sure she knows that you want to contribute more than you might normally contribute.
  4. Image titled Talk to Strangers Step 4
    Don’t overthink it. If you obsess over all the ways things can go wrong before you start a conversation with a stranger, you're setting yourself up to fail. The more you think about it, the more anxious you'll get. When you see someone you want to talk to, break the ice immediately, before you have a chance to talk yourself out of it. The adrenaline of the moment will carry you past your nerves.[4]
  5. Image titled Talk to Strangers Step 5
    Fake it till you make it.[5] Talking to strangers can be intimidating and exhausting, especially when the stakes are high. If you go on a job interview or want to talk to an attractive man or woman, you might worry that everyone can see how uncertain you feel. But no one knows how nervous you are but you! Just pretend you're more confident than you actually feel, and the person you're talking to will see what you want them to see.
    • Remember, the more you practice talking to strangers, the less you'll have to fake your confidence.
  6. Image titled Talk to Strangers Step 6
    Don’t let rejection get you down. When you start putting yourself out there, you may well get the brush-off from someone you approach. But as a shy person, you know perfectly well that sometimes, people just don't feel like talking. If someone rejects your approach, don't take it personally!
    • Try to see failure as exciting — it’s a chance to learn and improve.
    • People don’t bite. The worst thing that can happen is that someone will say they're busy or want to be left alone. That's not the end of the world!
    • Nobody's watching or thinking about you but you. Don't worry about people laughing at you — they're all busy thinking about themselves.

Part 2
Talking to a Stranger

  1. Image titled Talk to Strangers Step 7
    Look approachable and friendly. If you look anxious or grim when you open up a conversation, you’re going to put the other person on edge immediately. Even if you feel like a mess inside, try to look relaxed and friendly to put other people at ease. This will result in better, longer conversations.
    • Make eye contact. Instead of fiddling nervously with your phone, look around the room and observe the people. Make eye contact with people to see who else is looking for conversation.
    • Smile whenever you make eye contact with people, even if you don't plan to talk them. It both gives you practice in non-verbal communication and raises the odds of someone being receptive to a conversation.
    • Open up your body language. Throw your shoulders back, stick your chest out, and raise your chin. The more confident you look, the more people will want to talk to you.
    • Don't cross your arms over your chest. People might interpret crossed arms to mean that you're closed off or uninterested in conversation.
  2. Image titled Talk to Strangers Step 8
    Open nonverbally before you start talking to someone. Others might find it strange if you start talking to them without giving any hints that you were going to approach them. Instead of walking up and starting a surprise conversation with the side of someone's head, ease into it nonverbally. Make eye contact and give a smile to establish a connection before trying to start a conversation.
  3. Image titled Talk to Strangers Step 9
    Open with a small interaction. You might want to get to know someone, but opening with deep conversation topics out of the blue might turn people off. If you're doing a cold-approach (not reacting to something you've both observed), start small. Instead of opening with a question about life goals, just make an observation or ask for a favor:
    • Man, the bar's slammed tonight. We'd better leave good tips!
    • Traffic's a nightmare today! Do you know if there's an event in the neighborhood?
    • Could you plug in my laptop cord for me? The outlet's behind you.
    • Do you know what time it is?
  4. Image titled Talk to Strangers Step 10
    Introduce yourself. Once you've opened with your small interaction, you want to find out the other person's name. The best way to do that is simply to offer your own name. Etiquette will basically force the other person to introduce themselves in kind. If he ignores your introduction, he's either in a very bad mood or is rude — either way, it's best you don't try to pursue this conversation.
    • After you've finished your opening interaction, just say "I'm [your name], by the way." Offer a firm handshake as you're introducing yourself.
  5. Image titled Talk to Strangers Step 11
    Ask open-ended questions.[6] If you ask questions that have yes or no answers, the conversation could stall quickly. Instead, ask questions that encourage the conversation to open up rather than close down. For example:
    • "What have you been up to today?" instead of "Are you having a good day?"
    • "I've seen you here a lot. What keeps you coming back? What's so great about this place?" instead of "Do you come here often?"
  6. Image titled Talk to Strangers Step 12
    Ask the person to explain something to you. Everyone likes to feel like they're an expert on something. Even if you know a lot about the subject you end up talking about, ask the person to explain things to you. For example, if a news event comes up, say "Oh, I saw some headlines, but didn't have time to read the article at work today. Can you tell me what that was about?" People enjoy conversations more when they feel like they have something to teach.
  7. Image titled Talk to Strangers Step 13
    Don’t be afraid to disagree. Finding common ground in a conversation is very important. As strange as it might seem strange, though, a good disagreement can be a great way to form a new relationship. Show the person you're trying to talk to that hanging out with you won't be boring. Engage him or her in a debate that lets each of you show off your intelligence.
    • Keep the debates light-hearted. If you see the other person getting worked up, back off immediately.
    • You want a good-natured back and forth, not an argument.
    • Make sure to smile and laugh often while debating to let everyone know you're having a good time, not getting upset.
  8. Image titled Talk to Strangers Step 14
    Stick to safe topics. While you want to have a debate, you don't want to stray into areas that will lead to an actual argument. A debate about religion or politics might result in hurt feelings, but one about the best travel spots or football team will stay light-hearted and fun. Other safe topics might include movies, music, books, or food.
  9. Image titled Talk to Strangers Step 15
    Let the conversation go where it wants to go. You might be tempted to stick to a prepared list of conversation topics. Doing that would limit the conversation's potential, though! Let the conversation grow organically. You can try to steer it gently toward topics you're more comfortable with, but don't manhandle it awkwardly. If your partner wants to talk about something you don't know much about, just admit it. Ask them to explain it to you and enjoy learning something!

Part 3
Adjusting to Your Specific Context

  1. Image titled Talk to Strangers Step 16
    Keep it light during a fleeting interaction. Talking to people in line at the grocery store or in an elevator is a great way to practice talking to strangers. Because you'll be in the same place for such a short time, you know that you'll be able to leave the conversation quickly, which can calm you down. Don't get into deep topics during these interactions. Keep it light and observational: "Man, this elevator smells terrible" or "Please convince me not to impulse-buy all this checkout aisle candy."
  2. Image titled Talk to Strangers Step 17
    Have fun during a longer interaction. If you're at a coffee shop, bar, or lounging in the chairs at a book store, you have more time to spend in the conversation. Try to enjoy it! Joke around and show off the fun side of your personality that only your long-time friends usually get to see.
  3. Image titled Talk to Strangers Step 18
    Get to know someone you’re romantically interested in. If you meet someone you think you'd like to ask out, ask more personal questions. Not only does this make the new relationship immediately more intimate, it also teaches you a lot about the person you're talking to. You can size them up to see if they'd even be a good match for you.
    • Don't push too far, though. Asking someone if they want to have kids in your first conversation would be very overbearing.
    • Instead, offer semi-personal details about yourself, and let the other person decide whether they want to share. For example, "I'm a real mama's boy/daddy's girl. If we don't talk every day, I just don't feel right."
  4. Image titled Talk to Strangers Step 19
    Be professional during a networking opportunity. You might find yourself at a party with someone influential in your line of work. You might be at a professional conference. In any networking interaction, you want people to get the impression that you're confident and capable. Even if you feel anxious about talking to a stranger, fake it till you make it.
    • Don't make the kind of off-color jokes that might work well at a bar.
    • Stick to talking about the industry you work in. Show people that you know your stuff and are good at your job.
  5. Image titled Talk to Strangers Step 20
    Try to be memorable during an interview. The interview itself is important, but so is the small talk before and after the interview. Engaging the interviewer in pleasant conversation shows that you're someone they should want as a colleague. Furthermore, every single interviewee might answer the exact same questions. They might start to blend together in the employer's mind. Small talk is when you get to bring up a topic that makes you memorable.
    • Share something unique about yourself: "I skipped rugby practice to come to this interview, so you know I want this job!"


  • Don't trap people in conversations. If the other person seems uninterested in talking, don't pressure them.
  • If you decide go out by yourself to a new location or area, it is a good idea to let someone know where you are going and when you expect to return.
  • If you are Facebook user, check your events page to see what's happening where and when in your area.
  • Try to have a reputation of being approachable and kind. It could help you in future meetings and interactions.
  • You can use social networking sites such as that encourages real life interactions. You can find groups in your local area that match things you're interested in and get involved in social groups you are more likely to be comfortable at talking to new people.
  • The key is to be able to feel comfortable within yourself, regardless of how awkward or lame or weird the situation might seem. If you feel comfortable, things will get less awkward.


  • You might encounter some of the following problems, but the sooner you push through them, the sooner you'll realize how harmless they really are:

    • You won’t know what to say when you approach people.
    • You might end up standing around looking uncomfortable.
    • You’ll be almost visibly shaking for the first few people you approach.
    • You might get off to a good start in a conversation, and then get stuck and won't know what else to say (uncomfortable silences).
    • You’ll tell yourself, “This is too hard! I think I’ll just rent a movie instead.”
    • Some people will think you're hitting on them.
    • Watch out as you might approach a bad person who could potentially hurt you.
    • Don't feel too big.
    • Pressuring people into conversations could be an invitation to fight, be careful.

Article Info

Featured Article

Categories: Featured Articles | Social Interactions