4 Steps to Confident Conversations –
It happens quickly: At a small gathering of people, you suddenly find yourself face-to-face with someone you’ve never met. You smile awkwardly for a moment, wondering if you should try to start a conversation or simply move on. Sound familiar?
With a little practice and the help of some simple techniques, you can gain the confidence to start a conversation with almost anyone!
Knowing what to do when you meet someone for the first time can be challenging: What should I say? Am I standing too close? What happens if we run out of topics to discuss? How do I end the conversation at the right time?
All these questions can create so much stress that it becomes hard to feel excited about meeting new people.
It doesn’t have to be this way, though. With a little practice and the help of some simple techniques, you can gain the confidence to start a conversation with almost anyone!
The main thing you need to become a successful conversationalist is a solid game plan. Here are 4 great steps to help build confidence when meeting new people:
Step #1: Start with an Icebreaker
“Breaking the ice” means building connection and positive energy in the middle of uncertain or uncomfortable social situations. Your first goal when meeting someone new should be to get any sort of conversation moving because this will open up additional topics of interest.
For this reason, good conversationalists are always ready to provide an icebreaker question or two. This is the simple part of starting a conversation: simply by memorizing a few common questions or topics, you’ll be able to get past that first awkward moment with ease.
So, when you come up to someone new, smile, make eye contact, and try one of the following conversation starters:
Icebreakers for Talking About the Weather:
- Beautiful day, isn’t it?
- It’s nice to see the sunshine, isn’t it?
- Can you believe all of this rain we’ve been having?
- I’m so tired of the cold weather!
Icebreakers When Out for a Walk:
- Beautiful day for a walk, isn’t it?
- Nice day to be outside, isn’t it?
- How old is your baby?
- What’s your puppy’s name?
Icebreakers With Other Parents at your Child’s School:
- Isn’t [teacher’s name] a great teacher?
- How is [child’s name] enjoying the school year?
- I can’t believe the school year is almost over! Do you have plans for the summer?
- Are your kids involved in any sports or activities?
Icebreakers At a Party:
- Are you enjoying the party?
- How do you know [the host]?
- What do you do for fun?
- Do you know who made this [food item]? It’s really good!
- That’s a really nice [clothing item] you have! I love the color!
When starting a conversation with someone new, it’s also helpful to realize that you are probably not alone in feeling uncomfortable: your conversation partner likely feels just as tongue-tied as you do! That other person may be greatly relieved to find that you are prepared to get things moving with some easy icebreakers.
Remember to smile, nod your head a lot, and appear genuinely interested in the topic. Make the other person feel like they are the most interesting person in the room and you’ll be sure to have a successful conversation.
While you are talking, try to keep a distance of about 1.4 meters (4.4 feet) from the other person. Studies have shown that people prefer this conversational distance with others that they don’t know well. Staying a comfortable distance from your partner will help set the best environment for getting to know each other.
Step #2: Follow Up with Closed-Ended Questions
Even the best icebreakers get boring after a minute or two. As you sense this introductory topic running out of gas, it’s time to transition the conversation to something slightly more personal. This is where closed-ended questions are helpful.
A closed-ended question is one which can be answered simply, often with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Having 3 or 4 of these questions ready as a follow-up to your icebreaker will help you learn about your conversation partner’s interests and personality. When you uncover an interest you both share, you’ll be ready to go deeper with it in the next part of your conversation.
Common closed-ended questions include:
Yes / No Questions:
- Do you live near here?
- Do you know much about [a topic]?
- Do you have family in the area?
- Have you seen [new movie title]?
- Do you like sports?
- Do you know any good restaurants around here?
- That [food or drink] looks good! What is it?
- What kind of work do you do?
- Where does your family live?
- Where do/did you go to school?
- How long have you lived here?
- How long do you plan to stay in the area?
Remember to keep your closed-ended questions short, and don’t get too personal. Definitely no questions about money, age, or political views! If you happen to find a topic you feel strongly about, don’t argue or explain your perspective but simply move on with a different question.
After a few of these closed-ended questions, it’s time to move to the next part of the conversation, where (hopefully) you will move into a personal topic that is interesting to both of you.
Step #3: Go Deeper with Open-Ended Questions
Open-ended questions require deeper thought than closed-ended questions. Many of them are ‘W’ Questions:
- What do you think about…?
- How do you…?
- When do you plan to…?
- What made you decide to…?
At this point, your main job is to show sincere interest in the other person’s life and experience. By listening carefully to the other person’s feelings and opinions, you’ll know what to say next.
You might ask an additional closed-ended question or two to clarify some information or to shift the topic in a more interesting direction.
Feel free to share your own positive personal information or to tell a short story from your experience as well. However, avoid talking too much about yourself; stay focused on getting to know your conversation partner.
There’s a secret at work here: If you want people to find you interesting, the most important thing you can do is show genuine interest in them. If you learn to do this well, your conversation partners might even think you’re one of the most fascinating people they’ve ever met!
If you want people to find you interesting, the most important thing you can do is show genuine interest in them.
Step #4: Make a Polite Closing
Be sure to notice when your conversation partner is ready to move on to a new topic or to close your talk altogether. Body language is key: if your partner’s eyes are moving to the dessert table or their wristwatch, or they start to shift from one foot to the other, it’s probably time for the conversation to end.
Ending conversations may feel challenging, but once again a few simple phrases can help. Use your conversation partner’s name (so be sure you remember it!), offer a smile (and maybe a friendly pat on the arm), and then move confidently away from the area.
Here are a few great ways to signal the end of your conversation:
- It’s been great talking with you, [partner’s name]!
- It’s really nice to meet you, [partner’s name].
- I’ll have to try [an activity] sometime! Thanks for telling me about it!
- I think I’m going to get a little more [food item].
- You should get some more [food item]!
- Oh, I didn’t realize how late it is!
- Well, I really need to get going.
- Talk to you again soon!
- I look forward to seeing you again sometime!
A common beginner mistake at this point is to say goodbye but then remain next to each other. Staying too close after talking creates the awkward feeling that you should somehow restart the conversation, which rarely goes well.
To avoid this uncomfortable situation, you might want to suddenly become interested in refilling your drink glass across the room, or in helping the party host clear away plates—anything that allows you to change locations. This also moves you into the position to try your conversation starters with someone else!
Becoming a good conversationalist isn’t as impossible as it might seem. By memorizing a few sentences, paying attention, and keeping a positive attitude, you can lower your stress and maybe even have fun!
With practice, you can turn conversations from a source of dread to something you actually look forward to. And who knows where the next conversation may lead you?
Thanks for taking a look at these 4 steps to confident conversations!
Be sure to also check out my article on 3 Common Mistakes that English Language Learners Make when Saying Please
Also, if you’re looking for last-minute gift ideas for a young English Language Learner, you’ll like these Great ESL Books for Kids
Note: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, at no additional cost to you. Recommended resources are carefully selected and help support the operation of my blog.