“What should I say when I talk with a stranger?”

Last updated on

There’s one thing most miss when they try to talk to someone they just met…

You see, I just came back to NYC after visiting friends and family in Sweden.

Meeting someone newHere are me and my buddies on my “last supper” in Sweden

While I was gone, we got some new folks in the co-living back in NYC. So yesterday I got a chance to get to know them. (Read about how to make friends in NYC here.)

You know, I get emails every day and the most common questions are: “How do I start a conversation with a stranger?” and “How do I come up with things to say?”

It took me a decade before I really figured this out.

Here’s the thing…

When two people meet, they need to make small talk for a few minutes to get to know each other.

Article continues below.

Take this quiz and see how you can improve your social life

Take this quiz and get a custom report based on your unique personality and goals. Start improving your confidence, your conversation skills, or your ability to bond - in less than an hour.

Start the quiz.

Small talk is important. But what we actually say when we make small talk isn’t.

Click here if you want a list with 100+ great small talk questions.

You see, when two people meet, they need to make noises with their mouths while they figure out if they like each other. What that noise contains is less important.

What’s important is in what way we make that small talk. Are we approachable, likable, needy, hostile, nervous, or something else? We need to just have something to talk about while we pick up on all that underlying, important stuff.

Here’s the trick: When you make small talk, you want to practice coming off as warm and relaxed.

With warm, I mean being friendly and pleasant. If you’re warm but not relaxed, you’ll appear nervous. If you’re relaxed but not warm, you’ll appear like Lil Wayne.

Relaxed doesn’t automatically mean calm. You can be both relaxed and high energy. Relaxed here means at ease and natural, as in the opposite of tense and awkward.

“But David, even if what I say isn’t important, still, what should I say?”

What I do is to say anything that’s related to THEM or the SITUATION.

Here are some examples:

  • “Hey, how are you doing?”
  • “What are you up to?”
  • “How do you like it here?”
  • “Have you been here before?”
  • “Have you tried the caviar?”
  • “This is a nice place”
  • “I love this view”

(Practise formulating questions or phrases like these in your head until you can fire them off at any time. That will make your life so much easier.)

Try saying the stuff above out loud in a nervous way versus in a warm and relaxed way. Think of it like how you would say it together with a good friend.

Small talk isn’t about what we say, it’s about how we say it.

“But David, it’s not that easy to sound relaxed if you’re nervous”.

I know! But when you start focusing on this, each new social experience will make you a little better. You can practice a little bit every single time you exchange a few words with someone.

You can even try saying “no thanks” in a more warm and relaxed voice the next time the cashier asks if you want the receipt.

Most people focus only on what to say. If you focus on how you say it, you’ll stand out.

So in its essence, say anything as long as it’s related to them or situation. The important part is to sound warm and relaxed.

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!

Free training: Conversation skills for overthinkers

  1. Use "conversational threading" to avoid awkward silence
  2. Learn a proven technique to get past empty small talk
  3. Improve socially without doing weird out-of-your-comfort-zone stunts.
  4. Instantly beat self-consciousness with the "OFC-method"
  5. See how you can go "from boring to bonding" in less than 7 words.

Start my free training.

David Morin is the founder of SocialPro. He's been writing about social skills since 2012. Follow on Twitter or read more.

Go to Comments (4)

4 thoughts on ““What should I say when I talk with a stranger?””

  1. I have difficulty coming up with something related to the topic that is being discussed, when the point that I was talking about has already been exhausted

  2. Yes, thanks for the advice. There’s something else I think you can help me with. To keep a conversation going with a stranger I usually try conversation threading and asking questions. Do you have any advice on how to come up with questions more easily?

  3. Yes, understanding things like this makes it less petrifying and easier to handle when one has social anxiety. So small talk is really about “reading between the lines” in terms of getting acquainted with a stranger and the important thing people assess is whether you’re warm and relaxed or cold and tense, etc. and these are characteristics that come across nonverbally or how you say things.

  4. Having the right tone of voice and a relaxed body language is very important. We are feeling creatures and I fell in love with the father of my son due to his body language and relaxed way and tone of voice.


Leave a Comment