Become an Expert Conversation Starter

Written on by Sheri Shifman

My husband is one of those people who can strike up a conversation with anyone.  He learns the life story of the guy-Vinnie-at-the-pizza-place in the five minutes it takes to pick up our dinner.   For me, it does not come so easily. As a college student, I was the person who sat uneasily at the beginning of class while everyone else (seemingly) chatted away with ease.  While I smiled politely and said hello, my brain would then draw a blank. How could I connect to this person I knew absolutely nothing about?  It was a source of great anxiety for me.

You are not the only one
If you are uncomfortable with small talk, know that you are not alone!  There are many books and articles on the subject, which indicates many others feel the same.  Better yet, there are ways to overcome the anxiety.   It does require stepping out of your comfort zone, but with practice it gets easier.  How, you ask?

First, observe things about the people in the room that could become potential topics, particularly something you might be interested in yourself.  If you see a doodles or sketches in their notebook, chances are they like art.   Are they wearing an Eagles t-shirt?  They must be a die-hard fan!  You get the picture.

Choose your partner
Based on your observations, choose someone to approach.  You could also look for someone in your class that looks a bit shy themselves. They could have the same anxiety over striking up conversations!

Go for it!
Take a deep breath, introduce yourself and go for it!  Here are some tried and tested ways to get the small talk started:

This is my favorite go-to method because the possibilities are endless.   Also, by listening to the their responses, you can add follow up questions to perpetuate the conversation.   Some ideas:
Around school:
·  What’s your major? What draws you to that?
· What interested you in this class?
·  How do you feel about this teaching style?
·  I like your doodle. Are you into art?
·  Did you have a nice summer?
·  Do you like to travel? Where have you been?
·  Did you catch the game last night?
·  What do you think of the latest draft picks?
·  What do you think about … (insert something from the news)?

Use your observations to be creative with questions!

Do you like their watch, shirt, or hairstyle? Find something you like and give a genuine compliment.
·  I love that watch. What’s the brand?
·  That was a great question you had in class the other day. What do you think about…[insert something about the class or subject]?
If all else falls, there’s always the weather.  Invariably, the conversation will turn to something much more interesting.  If snow is on the horizon, you could start taking about fun activities like skiing or sledding. If it’s a gorgeous fall day, the conversation may turn to hayrides, apple festivals, or hiking.

Okay, so I started a conversation, but there’s a lull. Now what? 

I used to panic if there was silence in conversation – but its ok!  More than likely the other person is probably unsure what to say next too.   Just take a moment to gather your thoughts for your next comment or question.

Practice, practice, practice
Don’t be discouraged if your conversations seem awkward at first.  Remember, it takes practice.  The more you strike up conversations, the more comfortable it will become for you.

Good Luck!

Have any tips for other students?  Have you tried any of these suggestions?  Let us know how it worked out for you in the comments!

Need more ideas? Check out these sites:

Photo by Alexis Brown via Unsplash

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