Unless you are a particularly self confident person, knowing how to talk to strangers is something that is likely to make you feel a bit nervous, but this is a problem that can be overcome with a little effort.
1. First of all, it’s a case of ‘practice makes perfect’.
The more that you talk to strangers, the easier it will become. You can start off in a small way. For example, if you are waiting at the bus stop, pluck up courage and make an innocuous remark about the weather, or the unreliability of the bus service, to the person standing next to you. It is very unlikely that you will meet with a rebuff.
Then, keep on practising; pass a friendly comment to the supermarket cashier, the clerk at the bank and the receptionist at the doctor’s surgery, rather than just stating your business. Taxi drivers and hairdressers are usually notorious for chatting to their customers, so instead of ignoring or rebuffing them, use it as another practice session. By doing this, your confidence will increase in leaps and bounds, and you will find it easier each time that you do it.
2. At parties, conferences or other social events, if you cannot immediately see anyone that you know, instead of hiding in a corner, try to make some new acquaintances.
Look out for someone else who is standing on their own, and if they look approachable, go over and start a conversation. If you don’t feel that you can walk up to them just like that, take over a tray of nibbles as an excuse, introduce yourself, and then you can strike up a chat.
Always begin with small talk, such as, ‘Isn’t this a lovely room?’ or ‘It’s a good turn-out, isn’t it?’ This will not make the other person feel threatened, and will give them an opening for something to say back to you.
3. In order to sustain the conversation, you will need to keep a flow of questions and answers going, particularly if the other person is shy too. Don’t get too personal at first, but you can discuss films and TV programs, sporting events, music and so on.
Later on, if things go well, you can then ask about their job, family etc. Listen attentively to what the other person has to say, and don’t interrupt or talk over them. Smile, nod and make eye contact with them to show that you are interested in what they have to say.
4. If you find that you have nothing in common with the other person, that they are unbearably boring, or have nothing much to say for themselves, find a polite excuse to terminate the conversation. This can be something along the lines of, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, do excuse me, but I’ve just spotted my friend Sarah over there, and I really have to talk to her. It`s been lovely chatting with you.’ That way, you won`t hurt their feelings.
5. It can be even more difficult if you find yourself having to chat with a whole group of strangers, for example during a break at a conference.
If you feel nervous, try to stand on the outskirts of the group at first and listen to what the others have to say, until you feel confident enough to join in with the conversation.
In this situation, the obvious topic of conversation will be the content and presentation of the conference itself, so if you have been paying attention, you are just as well equipped to talk about this as any of the other delegates. Think about what you are going to say, rather than just blurting something out, and that way you are less likely to risk making a fool of yourself.
Learning how to talk with strangers is intimidating, but with practice your self confidence will grow and you will gradually find that it is easier and easier to do. Remembering that the other person is probably just as shy and nervous as you can also be a big help.