If you’re one who stumbles — and falls — during those initial moments when you’re meeting someone new, you’ve come to the right place. And if you think you’re a smooth operator who’s known for witty opening lines, there may be something here for you to learn, too. Read on.
Open by Asking Questions
This is a great way to start a conversation in almost any situation. You can use the weather, your situation, or a request you may have, such as asking for directions or assistance (“Is it always this hot in February?” or “Do you know the best route to downtown?”)
Make a Comment
Break the ice by making a comment or statement, often followed by a question. This technique works especially well when you’re with a group of people sharing a similar experience, such as waiting at the doctor’s office, attending a gallery opening, or standing in line. The other day, I was standing in line at Barnes & Noble when I felt something in my eye. I immediately began tugging at my eyelashes, turned to the man next to me and remarked, “I’ve got something in my eye. Don’t you hate it when that happens?” Because it’s a common occurrence, it got the conversation going. (Plus, he gave me a terrific suggestion to ease my pain.)
You can also make comments about your surroundings (“I love the artwork in here. Do you know the artist?”) Or, say something more personal (“I was just admiring your earrings. Did you buy them here?”) By making statements about surroundings or events, you establish a common bond that readily and easily promotes dialogue.
State an Opinion
This can be a little tricky, but also fun. Opinions work better in social situations like parties and sporting events. You can state an opinion about current events (there’s plenty of fodder these days), work, the weather, or where you are at the present moment. You can talk about a movie, TV show, restaurant, or book.
Try this technique in the grocery store, when you’re by the produce or looking at those outrageous magazine headlines. Just tread lightly on this one. One time I told the woman next to me in a restaurant, “Wow, that girl’s hair looks like she just got out of bed,” to which the woman replied, “That’s my daughter.” We both laughed about it, so it turned out well, but all the same, it shows that certain opinions can be awkward. Picking a more neutral topic is safer and less likely to get you into a sticky situation.
Share a Fact
Facts are entertaining and interesting and can be great ways to break the ice at social and business events. You can use anything and everything from the weather (“I hear today is going to be a record-breaker!”) to things about your city (“We’re famous for our barbecue sauce”) to current events (“CNN has come out with a new format”). Little tidbits can be intriguing and a good way to get the banter going. Make sure you know your facts, however, or else someone could correct you, which could be embarrassing. Unless, of course, your intention is to spark a conversation with a little bit of controversy!
Use a Cliche
These are used so frequently because they’re effective and because they usually work well. You can use them just about any time, at any place from nightclubs to parties to business functions. You can always make a joke of using a cliche, such as “I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this, but do I know you from somewhere?” In all cases, be honest and sincere. The saying goes that what you say isn’t as important as how you say it.
Be Wry and Witty
If you’re the type that uses humor well, then by all means, employ your wit. This is best done when you’re with your contemporaries in a social setting, like a volleyball game, barbecue, or even a volunteer activity, if it’s appropriate. Delivery is essential on this, and so is knowing your audience. If you get a good feeling that the person will be receptive to your brand of humor, then go for it. Otherwise, rely on another technique that may be more successful.
Once the conversation gets going, you can interrelate more by gradually disclosing a little about yourself. This is best done in small doses, by asking and talking, asking, and talking. Avoid having one person monopolize the conversation, which can be as embarrassing as it is uncomfortable. And when things wrap up, use a polite close. If they go very well, have a way to get back in touch.
GinaMaria Jerome is a writer, consultant and trainer. For more meeting-people tips, check out her book, The Portable Pocket People Meeter: 50 Ways to Meet, Greet, and Communicate.