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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tip #3: How to talk to strangers at parties

Do you like talking to strangers at parties, or do you get nervous? Well, here's a handy tip I learned that makes mingling way easier...

Don't worry if the first two seconds are awkward. A friend told me this years ago, and it totally changed my approach to parties. When you strike up conversation with strangers, the first moment is basically guaranteed to be awkward. Who cares! Embrace it! Just walk up to someone, introduce yourself, and push through those first two seconds as if you're opening a door to the conversation. Once you get into an awesome, fun, rollicking chat, no one will remember how it started. Knowing this advice makes me feel free to just walk up to whomever and just start talking. :)

Thoughts? Any other tips for mingling? What do you talk about? (My three foolproof questions: Seen any good movies lately? How do you know the host? Any fun vacations coming up?) I'd love to hear your thoughts... xoxo
(Top photo from Seinfeld. Bottom photos by Magnum)

81 comments:

Prescott Perez-Fox said...

Following many years of being terribly awkward, I've gotten better at this. I find a good tactic is to intrude on a group and say, simply "hi guys, mind if you join the group?" you can substitute "gang", "party", or "circle", for some extra levity.

Your arrival will almost always be an interruption so you can also add, "don't let me interrupt, go ahead and finish what you were saying." That will also let you know what they were talking about just before you appeared.

I find it's easier to approach a mixed group of men and women rather than a single-sex group. Women are always timid around strange men, and a group of guys don't really want more guys around, because it makes them look like they're scheming something.

Lauren Kent said...

Great tips! I personally revel in meeting new people, but these will help for those bad days :D

Becca said...

Oooo this is hugely helpful! I'm wondering if anyone has tips of how to go about striking up that initial conversation - these are great "once you get there" tips, but I'm also curious about those first meeting words. Do you just walk up to someone and say "hi my name is so and so, we haven't met yet" or do you try and broach the subject a little more slyly (e.g. by the punch bowl - editorial aside, does anyone still use punch bowls - saying "this is really delicious, huh?"?

Would love to hear yours, Joanna, and anyone else's thoughts!

Becca

Jessica Wray said...

Loving this advice. I tend to just dance like Elaine... kidding, I hope.

Kristen Pope said...

I agree! Push through the awkwardness at the beginning- its so worth it at the end of the night when you have been able to hear the stories of a new friend!
theflannelpanel.blogspot.com

Joanna Goddard said...

becca, i would say, "hey, how's it going? i'm joanna," and that's it! then i ask "how do you know the host?" or whatever intro question :)

cats dreaming in keylime said...

Is this weird? I rather talk to strangers than people I know. I feel this false sense of confidence. (koo koo, right?)

hrck the herald said...

Great post! And letting yourself off the hook for being dull/awkward for those first couple of seconds is a great way to relax. I also find that people like to talk about food, so if there's ANYTHING food related at the party, I latch onto that :)

Kersey Campbell said...

My favorite tip: Don't talk too much about yourself! - it can be a total turn off when you don't show more interest in them than yourself.

This is a great post! We're having a party this weekend, we'll have to incorporate these tips :)

Diana Mieczan said...

Giggle - I love that photo of Elaine dancing. That was such a great one, wasn't it? I totally love the first tip. Its so true that the first few seconds are uncomfortable and so awkward but we all just have to push thought and it should get better. If not there is always wine:) Hahah..Kisses, Joanna.

Haley Rogers said...

yep i'm probably the most awkward person in those situations. Its nice to hear i'm not the only one. Thanks for the post!

haley
outingsandoxfords.blogspot.com/

love+cupcakes said...

I'd say the amount of alcohol I've consumed determines whether or not I'm a social butterfly. While I don't recommend getting sloshed at your husband's company party (or your own), I think one or two drinks helps with loosening up and allows you (me) to be more fearless when faced with mingling with strangers. I will, however, follow the keeping topics to talk about in my back pocket trick. That's great advice.

Jackie said...

Ooh this is helpful! I'm terrible at thinking of things to say to strangers. I always fall back on the old "so what do you do for a living?" I wonder if people hate that question-it's just the only thing that I can usually think to ask!

www.york-avenue.blogspot.com

Ann said...

Oh gosh, I'm the gab that talks to everyone at a party. They probably just wish I would hush up! Actually, I rarely talk about myself, I mostly just ask people questions and give them a chance to talk about themselves. The biggest thing I learned very young is not to fill the silence. Silence is not a bad thing and it allows a more timid person to open up and tell their story.

A French Cloud said...

it's wonderful to have a husband with an accent and most people have questions about that to be an icebreaker.

Christina Solazzo said...

I hate talking to strangers, but these are good tips. I tend to try to first find and befriend someone more shy than I am, so we can try to mingle with the rest of the strangers together. Also, at least then there's one more friendly face in the room.

Sam said...

Thank you so much for this tip! I'm going to a party this weekend where I won't know most of the people and, while I'm excited to meet new people, those first few seconds of conversation ARE always so awkward. I feel much better prepared after reading this.

Tigercub said...

Best tips I've heard/use
1. pretend you're the gracious hostess of the party, and it's your responsibility to make everyone comfortable (makes you forget your own nervousness!)
2. ask the guest lots of questions, ie, how is the [x dish]?, who else do you know here, what do you do, any vacations coming up/what are your holiday plans, can i get you a drink?

chelsea206 said...

thanks for the tips, joanna! i recently moved to a new city and am finding myself struggling to have enough confidence to start conversations with new people. i'll try to keep this in mind next time i'm feeling super awkward :)

Laura @ Fit For Life said...

i LOVE talking to strangers but HATE running into "acquaintances" or people that i kind of know. (i've been know to spot someone and intentionally walk the other way or cover my face - i'm probably way more obvious than i think i am)

you learn so much from talking to random people and they're always willing to chat (and happy someone is talking to them!).

and starting a conversation with a stranger is only as random as you make it! whatever, who cares?!

Jennifer said...

I love meeting new people and I'm very outgoing but what I have learned over the years is that many people do not feel the same way and I need to be understanding of that. To be a good listener and patient is what I strive to do. What comes easy to one can be a true challenge to another. The Elaine Dance...my cat is named Elaine after her, lol Jennifer

Kiana said...

I hate conversations that start with, "So what do you do?" It's as though someone assumes your job is somehow inextricably linked to what makes you yourself.

Christina Marie said...

In another Seinfeld episode, George makes a list of conversation topics to have over the phone... funny you mention that. :)

Christina

www.becauseofmadalene.blogspot.com

Daniela said...

What works for me on talking to strangers is to be truly interested in them... I mean... people always like or need to be heard, to talk about themselves... so I always try to make questions that encourages people to talk about them instead talking about me. For me that's the best way to know people and to make future good frienships.

:)

rolala said...

Great advice! I love meeting and talking to new people. I find it helps to listen and show genuine interest in what the other person has to say in any kind of situation.

Jessi said...

Well, its funny... because as a child and well into my teenage/young adult life i was PAINFULLY shy. it took me years to get the courage to talk to strangers, voice up and express myself.

NOW, i'm THAT person. the person who makes everyone feel comfortable, the person who seems confident (little do they know) and the person who is easy to laugh and have a great time.

there was a point in my life where i realized that if i was ever to meet new people, meet a husband, be that person i wanted to be... i'd have to just do it. so, literally, the words "oh fuck it". came into my head. so, i started thinking "oh fuck it" before i'd jump into a social situation i was nervous of.

sounds stupid... but it truly helped me out. because honestly... its not that big of a deal. oh fuck it. now i'm more than happy to embarrass myself for a laugh, to meet everyone and anyone who will talk to me, and if it doesn't go as planned... fuck it. :)

it honestly changed my life. and i wouldn't go back for anything...

thanks so much, this is a great post and sorry for the long rambling and profanities.

Jessi
finnpuppy@gmail.com

Tonia said...

A good friend of mine invited a large group of her college friends out to a trendy coffee shop as a going-away party for an exchange student at their college that they were all friends with. I went to a different college in the same city, so I didn't know anyone in the group besides the host. I decided to take a seat next to a nice-looking boy and struck up a conversation. I believe I lead with, "I like your hat." Five years later, we're married! :) Being brave enough to put yourself out there pays off!

hello, Friday said...

This is a great post. I always find hard to start the talk with a stranger at the party. I tried, but the moment of awkwardness was too painful. For this upcoming holiday parties, I shall embrace it and really be open for a chit-chat. Thank! xoxo
http://hellofridaybypaik.blogspot.com/

Angela said...

I totally agree with Kiana! Being asked, "What do YOU do?" is such a turn off. How about, what do you LIKE to do? or what are you into? instead :) Being more specific is way more fun too, like what book you're reading or movie you've seen.

Emikos Werid Unexplained thoughts said...

Though im extremely shy,I have learned a few things via trail and error. one thing would be to smile. it can be a grin , that little sign of emotion will make you more inviting. One other thing would be if there were music on ask them to dance, man or woman. i gained two friends like that.(girl/boy) they asked me to dance and i was caught off surprise.

Kerikins said...

The best thing to do is walk into the room with the notion that you are awesome. Locate the bar, grab a glass of wine, be totally confident in your presence at the party and then find someone or a group you can go up to, say hi, and weave seamlessly into their conversation.

A great ice breaker is to ask, how do you know the host? Or something more specific, such as, "Oh, did you meet Joanna at yoga, too?" (Or whatever the context may be!)

Jeneric Generation said...

These are great tips! But I have a question. How do you get out of a casual congersation politely? I often find that I'll be talking to someone for a few minutes, the convo dies down, and I am not sure how to transition into stepping away and chatting with someone else. Any tips?

Aurora said...

I love talking to strangers. A little observational humor/charm always works as an opener for me. Gives you something to talk about that's neutral (a painting on the wall, the food, the crowd, a funny plastic cup, etc.) before getting the interrogation spotlight out. though that 2 seconds point is the best one -- just get any words at all out there!

Sandra P. said...

My husband is a big people person, he has no problem talking to strangers, and is totally laid back about it. I on the other hand absolutely dread meeting new people. So I'll usually do the, Hi, it's nice to meet you. And just let my husband take over and bring up topics that I can chirp in on. Thanks for the tips though, they're good! :]

Sarah said...

I am so shy in party situations! This post is kind of a nice reminder that it's tough for everyone to break out of their comfort zone and talk to strangers. I'm now excited for the next time I get to meet some new folks! Thank you!

Bill, I am. Not. said...

Joanna, I thought I would add something that I find is useful for breaking the ice with strangers--compliments!

It's a really easy and friendly way to get people to open up by letting them know you like their dress, glasses, phone, etc. Then follow-up with a where did you get that? How do you enjoy it? Or something along those lines.

Works like gangbusters, I promise.

Anonymous said...

I think it is a good idea to think for a few minutes about the people you know will be at the party - did they get a new job, have a baby, go on a vacation since you last saw them - and be ready to ask about these things. Showing interest in the other person is always a winning strategy! And as you say, you can ask strangers how they know the host. That is a great tip!

Robin said...

Oh, listen to Dinner Party Download on NPR! they start each podcast with a joke you can use at a party.
http://www.publicradio.org/columns/dinnerpartydownload/

Anonymous said...

This was a great post. I tend to be pretty quiet in large groups and am terrible at small talk. I sometimes find that it's ok to be that way at a party; often I find that it is inviting to someone else who is the same way, and usually end up making a great friend!

Shelley Yokota

Jenny in Ohio said...

Yes!! Elaine dancing! What a great episode. :)

and thanks for the tips!

Abbey S said...

haha I love the pictures you chose!

Wendy said...

Having spent 15 of my adult years working in hospitality, I have no problem talking to strangers. I completely agree w/ you on all three counts. Especially #2.

PS- That is my all time favorite Seinfeld episode!

PSS- I have the biggest girl crush on Bianca Jagger (second photo).

Laura said...

Conversation starter from a story on This American Life:

If you could choose between the following 2 super powers which would you choose...flying or invisibility?

Oh yeah!

Erin said...

I love this post. I always feel like I should have no problem talking to people I don't know, and I always manage to get nervous. Going to remember these tips!!

Kate said...

Lovely tips! To ad one I learned in a communications course- If you don't know the individual you are approaching (well... works if you know them too), but mimicking works great. This doesn't mean acting like a parrot or repeating them, but if they are talking loudly, speak at a similar level
if you are sitting, and they are leaning forward, lean forward slightly, and such.
You don't have to change who you are for this, simply consider how best to make the individual you are talking with feel comfortable, and generally people are most comfortable with individuals who are similar to themselves.

Diane James Home said...

Thanks for the great tips! As one of a pair of identical twins, we never had a problem entering a room filled with strangers as we always had each other. But it's never easy when I go solo... I find that walking into a room, standing tall with a smile opens me up to meeting new people and finding something about their appearance (what a great top! Where did you find it?) helps break the ice too.

Anonymous said...

These are fun party photos!

rach. said...

AMEN sista.

love, rach.
www.so--hi.blogspot.com

Joanna Goddard said...

jessi, that is AWESOME.

andrea said...

Such a great topic and tips! Thanks for sharing.

Molliee said...

really great advice! I hate those akward moments!!!

ebev said...

I usually like to comment on an article of their clothing...only If I actually really like it. Or ask if they are from around the area....also people (including myself) really enjoy chatting about food so asking about favorite restaurants and dishes is always a successful topic in conversation.

Erin
http://www.fablifeincalifornia.blogspot.com/

Tales of an HBS Wife said...

I love this! It's always so awkward, but I like the analogy of pushing through the door!

eleanor said...

I am ok with starting a conversation but never know how to gracefully exit one.

Saskiaj said...

This post is so very useful. I am British, and we Brit's aren't exactly known for our smooth conversational skills... Me included. I wish i'd had this advice last weekend when i so badly needed it!

brigzorn said...

"pushing through the door" that is so true! Love that analogy. I like to start conversations with a compliment...

Leeya Engel said...

I like to meet a persons eye and then make a comment about something we are btoh experiencing like

"boy, is it cold in here?"
"Aren't those cookies amazing?"

or compliment them

"What a great dress!"

It gives them the opening to respond and start a conversation

http://leeyaengel.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

When it doubt, just ask the person about themselves. It always works (who doesn't like talking about themself?) and you can usually find commonalities.

Jenny P said...

This is perfectly timed as I am meeting a group of people tonight for drinks BY MYSELF. Oh, and I know NOBODY! Thanks for these tips!

Tbadee said...

I just wanted to say how much I love that picture of Elaine from Seinfeld. She looks like she's having so much fun!

amynicole said...

Those silent moments truly are so awkward! My husband and I are so not small talkers, but we love talking about our awkward moments after we leave somewhere :)

QA Create said...

It is always hard to strike up a conversation with someone you have never met before. What I tell myself when I worry that someone will think I am weird for chatting them up out of nowhere is that, its a party! Parties are for socializing, so they had to expect to meet some new people tonight. After I think about that I never feel quite as awkward.

www.qacreate.com

Tiffany said...

Thanks for the great tip! I like your go to questions. They are better than the typical: where do you live? what do you do for a job?

Jam Oblina said...

Hi Joanna! I like the second one when you ask 'how do you know the host'. I think that's the safest start up conversation. :-)

http://jamwordscrolls.blogspot.com/

Fashion-isha said...

I always find something nice to say and give the person a compliment. Everyone likes a compliment. It's so much easier to start a conversation after that!
xo
Sharon

Miyan said...

i used to be so nervous and shy, but have shaken that lately. usually im just akward but i dont care. i love your suggestion of asking about an upcoming vacation.

ps- i love your blog (like millions of others) & mentioned you in a post yesterday and found out that so many of my own friends read your blog as well. you are a blog icon =)

Miyan
www.miyan-overseas.blogspot.com

it's a dry heat said...

My new favorite question to ask when meeting someone new is what tv shows they have saved (or would save) on their TiVo/DVR.

People immediately open up! Suddenly we're commiserating on a favorite drama (hello Mad Men), gossiping over some Housewives, or laughing about our new favorites- I lovelovelove 'Up All Night' and 'New Girl'! Just like a couple of old friends.

Joanne Hegarty said...

Great tips ! I had to do a lot of this in my old job and a little thick skin goes far !

http://www.balletpumpsandroses.com

Katie*Belle said...

What a great piece of advice! I will definitely use it!

Lulu said...

Interesting post - I guess you could say - just do it! Just get in there and know that the other person is JUST AS NERVOUS AS YOU. That usually helps me.
Love Lulu from:
www.luluslittlelovelies.blogspot.com

Yazmak iyidir... said...

My initial thought while approaching to someone I don't know is "Think that you are braver than most of the people in the room, possibly even braver than the person you're approaching right now" That makes me feel cool,steer the conversation and ask clever questions about the person I talk to, handle the situation easily.

But sometimes I forget this mantra in the middle of the conversation and get shy, start thinking why I ended up there :D

Carpet Bag Vintage said...

Its always funny because I am totally social at parties once I am there but I would rather be alone mostly! I am sure the my southern very ingrained manners just over ride my natural introvert tendencies!

double scoop said...

I love, love these images. Especially the Warhol.

Happy Blogging - Em Kathleen
http://double-scoop.com/

Joanna Goddard said...

these are amazing tips!!!! yes, everyone is just as nervous:) and i love the tip about asking about tv shows; people really would open up, great call.xoxo

Joanna Goddard said...

aw, miyan, thank you!!!!! xoxo

roysie said...

I'm personally very shy, but I have to go to parties for work all the time. The best advice I've gotten is to pretend like everyone there is thrilled to meet you. If the conversation dies down, tell them you're going to refresh your drink.

Kelsi said...

Did I miss Tip #2? Sad face.

Eden Angel said...

A compliment! Tell them you love their outfit/ shoes/ necklace. It gives a great first impression and a conversation starter. It's less awkward than automatically introducing yourself xx

enhanced diamonds said...

Stop thinking and just do!

Maria said...

Yep, totally agree. Starting with a compliment is a surefire way to get the conversation off on a good foot. You'll come across as super-nice, they'll feel good and the ice will have been broken!

Maria xx
www.cheekypinktulip.blogspot.com

dove grey day said...

Living in a country (England) where I have an obvious accent (Canadian) often helps the conversation start! not exactly helpful for everyone, but still!

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