Do you want to meet new people with the confidence of a rock star? It doesn’t require a superpower. Anyone can become a social pro and feel more confident when talking to strangers with these three tips.
You feel at ease with certain people. Sometimes, your closest friends can’t shut you up. That all changes when you’re in a room full of strangers. In that case, your mouth won’t open up. Here’s how to make the situation less uncomfortable.
Talking to strangers isn’t as scary as we first might think. Look at it this way: all of your friends, past or present, were “strangers” at some point. You’re not born into a friendship. You grow into friendships after establishing a mutual connection.
Granted, it’s easier to make friends when you’re young. Throw a bunch of bored kids in a classroom and they’re bound to befriend each other because it makes the whole situation less tiresome. That’s more difficult as a grown up.
Adults have kids, jobs, spouses, and a long list of responsibilities. It’s harder to make time for new friends because they already have so much to do. A lot of perceived “disinterest” is nothing more than busyness in disguise. After you internalize that fact, so-called rejections (busyness) won’t bother you as much.
Finding the courage to talk to strangers is the #1 hardest part of the process. And most people lack that courage because they misinterpret social cues. When a person doesn’t make plans with you, they aren’t “turned off” by you. They’re probably just busy. Get it? That said, here are three more useful tips…
1. Making a good first impression
First impressions can make or break you in a new social setting. People form a first impression within seven seconds of meeting you. That means you need to act fast. Otherwise, people could draw a false conclusion about who you are. To take charge of your image, you need to focus on these three key points:
A. Social skills
“Questions must be related to the context of the situation.”
Social skills are an essential ingredient to interacting with others confidently. The most important social skill is being able to listen and ask good questions.
Believe it or not, people aren’t terribly interested in you. That’s good news for nervous and anxious people who live inside their heads. If you learn to focus the discussion on another person, it removes an immense amount of pressure.
Questions are the key to getting to know someone.
However, these questions must be related to the context of the situation. For example, it makes sense to talk about sports when you’re at a football game. Or it’d make sense to discuss your favorite alcohol at a wine tasting.
Let’s say you go to a professional networking event, where career-related questions would be your most appropriate option. You could open a dialogue by saying, “Nice to meet you! My name is ____. What do you do for a living?”
Note: you need to disclose the same amount of details as your conversation partner. Otherwise, it will feel like an interrogation, which is not comfortable. You could respond with: “That’s so interesting! My name is _____ and I’m a (insert your job title) with (insert company name).”
To keep the conversation flowing, ask more follow-up questions related to the same subject. Here are some samples for a professional attending a networking event:
- When did you enter this profession?
- Who is your biggest mentor in business?
- What is your favorite thing about your job?
- Why did you choose to embark on this career path?
- How did you end up working for this specific company?
Open the conversation with a basic question like the first one. Work your way down the list — and onto more complicated questions — as the chat continues. The more you listen, the more comfortable people will feel around you.
Helpful hint: get in the habit of using people’s names frequently. It makes them feel even more at ease. And most people forget a person’s name as soon as they hear it. If you can manage to remember, you’ll stick out in a good way.
Remembering names is all about repetition and facial recognition. This is why people say they’re great at remembering faces, but not names. With this trick, you’ll become an expert at both.
“Resist the urge to interrupt people or “one-up” them with better answers to your own questions.”
Memorize at least three features about a person’s appearance immediately. That could be their hairstyle, eye color, and body type. Next, repeat their name inside your mind along with those characteristics.
Here’s an easy example. You meet a man named John who has a comb-over, brown eyes, and a muscular body. Thus, you would repeat…
- John has a comb-over.
- John has brown eyes.
- John has a muscular body.
Repeat those sentences mentally — at least three times each (you’ll be shocked how quickly you can do this) — and your odds of remembering their name will multiply. And the more you repeat this tactic, the easier it will become.
Related tip: resist the urge to interrupt people or “one-up” them with better answers to your own questions. Leave your ego at home. One-upmanship will turn people off faster than a cheetah would catch a zebra with a broken leg… so don’t even think about it!
Give value to people.
The value you offer is making others feel good about themselves.
You want them to feel like the interaction was fun, interesting, or helpful in some way. You don’t need to do anything special or spectacular (although that’s nice from time to time).
It’s smart to practice stories with a loved one you trust before you share them in a public setting.
Write down the story in a notebook. Edit and revise until it’s as tight as possible. After you’re content, read it to a dear friend, lover, or family member. Ask them to be brutally honest and interrupt you when they’re bored or confused. Tighten your delivery until it’s perfect before sharing it in public. You’ll feel more confident because you devoted so much time to practice.
B. Your looks
It’s hard not to be socially anxious when you feel insecure about how you look. This is not about looking like a model because most of us can’t reach that level (unless we have some great genetics). But you can at least look above average. It simply comes down to being well groomed and wearing the right clothes.
You don’t need an entire walk-in closet that’s chock full of fancy clothes.
All you need is one or two fantastic outfits that highlight your figure in the best way possible.
If you have a romantic partner, drag them outside of the house for some retail therapy. Outsource this decision to them since they’ll be in a better position to determine what looks good.
Otherwise, try on many different outfits and ask the changing room employee to help you decide what looks best. Call it “practice for talking to strangers.”
Before you begin trying on clothes, say: “I really need this outfit to stun people (in a good way). So do you mind if I perform a little fashion show? Tell me what looks best and don’t be afraid of hurting my feelings.”
I’m no fashion expert, but I can share some basic tips.
Try to avoid trendy clothes and splashy colors that aren’t ideal for every season.
It’s best to stick with attire that’s timelessly classy and neutral tones that look appropriate at any time of year.
Forget about tight-fitting clothes, because they will only make you appear to be fatter than you really are. Avoid loose or baggy clothes as well. Truly, it’s a patience game. You have to keep trying until you find the right fit.
It’s also important to match your colors correctly.
Black or brown shoes are best because they work with almost any color scheme. Here’s a basic tip that’s too often forgotten. Your shoes and belt should be the exact same color.
If you wear black shoes, wear a black belt. If your belt is brown, wear brown shoes. Simple enough, right? Feel free to get one of the adjustable belts that has a black and brown side. Then you’ll be ready for anything!
One more tip for women: don’t feel pressured to wear high heels. If you can’t walk without feeling comfortable, how’s that going to affect your presence? Probably in a bad way! There’s nothing wrong with a sensible pair of flats.
Posture is monumentally important.
You walk into a bar and see a person standing in a corner with their arms crossed and their head is down, staring at the ground. What does this say? They clearly aren’t interested in meeting new people or talking to strangers. Otherwise, they’d have a more relaxed and open posture.
If you want to be a social pro, you need to avoid this mistake. Experts disagree about how much of communication occurs on a nonverbal level, but there’s no denying that your body language influences how people perceive you.
Remember: first impressions are formed in seven seconds or less. Thus, you need to carry yourself with confidence. Your head should be high as if a balloon is gently pulling it in the direction of up. Your shoulders should be down and back as if there’s a waterfall washing away any tension they carry.
Crossing your arms can express a cold, detached attitude or disinterest in what a person is saying.
Let your arms dangle freely by your sides. If that feels awkward, try putting your hands in your pockets (just don’t fidget too much!). Sustain eye contact — without staring too intensely — while listening intently.
2. Your voice
You know how to listen. You look as sharp and confident as you can possibly be. Now it’s time to let your personality shine through your voice and diction.
Speaking in a monotone voice will wreck your first impression in an instant.
If you want to understand the power of language — not merely the words themselves, but how they are expressed — watch a play, movie, or TV show. The actors won’t speak in a monotone voice. Instead, their tone will change based on the situation. Apply the same reasoning to your social interactions.
When you meet a new person, speak in a higher tone of voice.
This reflects that you are more approachable than the average person. People will let down their guard and be curious about what you have to offer. For maximum effect, smile and provide a firm but friendly handshake as you introduce yourself.
If you’re telling a story and arrive to a plot twist or dramatic turn of events, speak in a lower tone of voice. Imagine the guy who does voice-overs for movie trailers: “And you’ll never believe what happens next…”
A lower tone can reflect a strong, masculine attitude that is appealing to most women (1). Go ahead and drop your voice a few octaves when you meet a female who captures your interest. It might help!
How to know what to say when making small talk or meeting someone for the first time
We’ve spent a lot of time on first impressions because they’re so critical to meeting strangers with the effectiveness of a real social pro. But now what? Interactions don’t end after the first seven seconds!
Establishing common ground is crucial.
People like what is similar to them. So if you are both attending a social function, you could have a friend in common. Ask, “Who do you know at this party?” and hope you hear a familiar name.
Positive feelings a person has for a mutual friend could be transferred to you. Does that make sense logically? Not really, but people are emotional creatures. Play that strange fact to your own benefit.
The same reasoning can be applied to favorite movies, actors, authors, or sports teams you have in common. Ask questions relentlessly until you find common ground or a mutual interest. After you isolate that area, concentrate there with all of your might. How so? Follow-up with more targeted questions to dig deeper into your similarity.
- How did you meet (mutual friend)?
- Who’s your favorite player on (team)?
- What’s your favorite book by (author)?
- Why is (destination) your favorite place to travel?
The deeper you dig into a similarity, the faster you’ll turn that stranger into a new friend. Pay attention to their body language while you ask such questions. If they look at their shoes or hunch their shoulders, it means they’re anxious. Remove some pressure by sharing a funny joke or story. If they look at their phone, they are bored. Change the topic fast.
And don’t forget to match their pace of disclosure. If you fire off questions at a rapid pace — and never disclose any information about yourself — they will feel as if they’re a criminal being interrogated by a police officer. That would make anybody feel anxious. Sprinkle some personal stories or anecdotes in between the questions to prevent overwhelming them.
Don’t underestimate the power of owning your own weaknesses. If a person seems closed off, no matter how hard you try, confess: “You know what? Meeting new people terrifies me. I’ve talked to more strangers today than I have in the rest of my life!” They may loosen up and become curious about how you appear to be so confident despite your fear.
Helpful hint: tell them you read this blog (hey, you would be helping both me and your new friend… win/win!).
3. Dealing with nervosity or anxiety
I’ve written more about how to deal with nervosity over here.
Personal experience will teach you more about talking to strangers than any amount of book learning. I’m glad you read this blog, but you must apply these tips in your own life before they can provide any benefit.
I challenge you to apply at least one of these tips in your interactions today. Tomorrow, apply another tip. The next day, apply yet another one. People spend too much time planning and not nearly enough implementing.
Please understand you’re not going to become the most magnetic person you know overnight. That requires a significant amount of practice. Expect a long (and often frustrating) process of trial and error. The sooner you accept that the sooner you’ll talk to strangers with the tenacity of a true social pro.
Whew, what an action-packed article this was! Let’s summarize the most important takeaways about talking to strangers that you can implement:
- All of your friends — past or present — used to be a “stranger.”
- “Disinterest” is often nothing more than busyness in disguise.
- When you recall those two points, you should feel less nervous.
- First impressions are formed within seven seconds — so act fast.
- Most people aren’t uber interested in you, but rather themselves.
- Thus, it’s smart to ask plenty of questions related to the situation.
- Watching a football game at the bar? Ask sports-related questions.
- Networking with professionals at an event? Ask business questions.
- Match a stranger’s pace of disclosure to make them feel comfortable.
- Feeling insecure about how you appear will affect the way you interact.
- Follow basic grooming tips and invest in a nice outfit to feel confident.
- Keep your body tall and open to reflect you want to meet new people.
- Crossing your arms or hunching over demonstrates a lack of interest.
- Introduce yourself with a high pitched voice during all interactions.
- Men can attract women by strategically using a low pitched voice.
- Find common ground to quickly turn a stranger into a friend.
- Zuckerman, M., & Driver, R. E. (1988). What sounds beautiful is good: The vocal attractiveness stereotype. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior,13(2), 67-82. doi:10.1007/bf00990791