The simplest way to gain entry into a conversation is also fairly intuitive: Show that you want in. Make eye contact, ask open-ended questions, display welcoming body language, nod appropriately, and offer pleasant feedback, suggests an article in Psychology Today. Do you speak body language? Learn the signals you might not realize you're sending.
Ease your way in
Open the door into the conversation gently, advises April Masini, relationship and etiquette expert in New York. "Don't enter with a rant, an extremely negative comment, or your own story," she says. "And watch for response to your entry. You'll see who's interested in you and what you're saying and who isn't. Non-verbal cues in these group situations are extremely valuable. If someone seems interested in what you say, follow up with them." These magic phrases can help keep conversations from getting awkward.
Charm your way in
Chime in with a charming line that provokes a response. Masini suggests "I couldn't help overhearing, and I wanted to hear more because...and fill in the blank." Masini believes this will introduce you to the group and give you an immediate entree into the group conversation. "It's different than just popping in—because it's acknowledging that you weren't part of the conversation, but you'd like to be—and why you'd like to be," she says. Here are more confidence tips to help you join the party.
Follow the last person who spoke
An ideal opening to join a conversation is in the pause just after someone has finished speaking. "Wait for a natural opening, and then comment on what the most recent speaker said, but never make it about you or your similar experience—always ask an open-ended question about the topic at hand," suggests Teana McDonald, owner of a social media and marketing firm in Coral Springs, Florida. "Since people love to talk about themselves, it's a safe bet that at least one person from the conversation will jump in to answer the question." Positive body language also helps you feel more connected.
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Make sure there's breathing room
Approach groups where there is physical space for you to stand next to someone. "If heads are huddled in close together and bodies remain close, avoid that group," suggests Ali Wenzke, a Chicago-based blogger, moving, and networking expert. "When you spot an opening in a group with more open body language, casually stand with the group. It's human nature to open up the circle, so you should be included without it feeling awkward." At a loss for words? Here's how expert minglers naturally make small talk.
Pause and assess
Wenzke advises to listen first, talk later. "When you first join a group, your instinct is to make yourself known," Wenzke adds. "To avoid embarrassment, make sure you know what the conversation is about before you start talking." These are the things all good listeners do during conversations.
Make yourself approachable
Eliminate any potential awkwardness by approaching a group with a smile and a ready handshake, as if it's the most natural thing in the world that you're joining the party. Wenzke says a good ice-breaker line, at the right time, of course, is, "How do you know the host or hostess?" Here are some more ways to make yourself seem interesting to new friends.
Find a wingman
Even if you didn't arrive with a friend, you can enlist one to help you meet others. An article in the Harvard Business Review suggests standing close to a member of the group until you make eye contact, and then politely and unobtrusively introduce yourself to that person. "After a one-line introduction, throw in a soft sell about how you'd love an introduction to the broader group at the appropriate moment," the article says.
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Leave the mix gracefully
Before the conversation falters, go out on a high note, says Wenzke. "Say good-bye with a firm handshake and say, 'It was really nice to meet you. I'm going to grab another drink/bite. Can I get anyone anything?' In general, most people will know this is an exit strategy and won't ask you to bring anything back. If they do, get them their drink and then head to the next group." Here's how to avoid being socially awkward.