My job often requires attendance at a lot of different functions – some will be full of people that I know, others I won’t know anyone at all which is why I’ve learnt how to strike up a conversation with just about anyone. And whether it’s a networking event, a dinner party or a wedding where you’re flying solo there are some tricks that I’ve learnt that will have you chatting up a storm with virtually anyone.
Make the first move
It can be daunting walking into a room and realising there are no familiar faces. And whilst it’s tempting to hide away in the corner and scroll through your phone, it does pay to introduce yourself to at least one person. Often this introduction will lead to meeting another person and so forth. Set yourself the challenge of saying hello to at least one person. My general fallback line is to introduce myself then explain my connection to the person or event and ask them in turn about what brings them to the event.
Remember someone’s name
Always make a point of remembering someone’s name and using it in conversation. This is courteous, respectful and is a way of recognising the person you’re talking to and will generally result in someone being more likely to open up to you. If you have trouble with remembering names try and associate their name with someone you already know – this is one of my tricks!
My Date with Kate columns often require me to sit down for a meal with a complete stranger for over two hours and build a rapport. To do this it’s important to genuinely pay attention to what the person is saying (resist the temptation to think of the question you’re going to ask next). By giving them your full attention you’ll often set the person at ease which will make them more comfortable to chat. Plus you’ll be able to pick up on a topic you may have in common and where to steer the conversation.
There’s a fine line between asking questions out of general interest and interrogating someone! Ask questions about their work, what brought them to the event or what they did on the weekend but make sure to steer clear of touchy subjects such as religion or politics.
Watch your body language
Seeming closed off and uninterested in chatting will result in conversation fizzling out. Also actions like folding your arms or looking around as if trying to find someone else to talk to is a guaranteed conversation killer. When I’m talking to someone I try and remain open with my responses, smile a lot, and remain present. Generally these simple things will mean someone will is more likely to want to chat to you in return.