You’re at an outdoor festival. Sun tingles your skin, buttered popcorn scents the air and a band jams in the distance. You spot a beautiful dark-haired girl with blue eyes in a sundress (or a handsome beau…just not in a sundress).
She stands alone, smiling gently. Your face suddenly warms, but not from the sun.
Here it is, your chance to talk to someone new. What do you say?
Well, if you’re like I once was (no good at talking and unsure of myself), you say nothing, right? You stand there thinking how to start or be funny. And thinking, and thinking, and…
Well guess what? If you don’t start doing something different, you’ll always be stuck standing there.
In this post, I share a realization that helped me break this frustrating pattern. Understanding this can make starting conversations much easier for you.
Simple is Often Better When Starting Conversations
Dr. Albert Mehrabian, Ph.D., a professor at UCLA, did a famous study in the 1960’s that suggests other people perceive messages from you like this:
- 7% from verbal cues – This is what you say, the actual content.
- 93% from non-verbals – This is stuff like body-language and tone of voice.
While this may not be true in every situation, it’s a widely accepted ratio. But what does it have to do with starting conversations?
Well, when you first meet someone, that non-verbal 93% works their brain overtime! Hundreds of impression points fire as they subconsciously “size you up.”
Because of this, you generally want the first thing you say to someone new to be simple.
This might seem counter intuitive, especially when you’re sweating to think up a great conversation starter. However, if your first words are too clever or complex, their busy brain is likely to say, “huh?”
In fact, they might verbally say the same thing.
What Do You Say to Start?
You don’t need to be clever to start a conversation. All that does is paralyze you. And as mentioned above, it can backfire.
It’s like trying to start with a cheesy pick-up line. It may sound clever and charming, but it usually doesn’t work.
The Best Way to Start is Small Talk
Small talk can be anything from pleasantries (Hi, how are you?) to the weather or even the latest movie. The opposite of small talk is stuff like feelings, passions and opinions.
A lot of people frown on small talk because it isn’t deep and meaningful. I’m going to let a secret out of the bag…that’s the point.
- Is the human way to feel each other out in a comfortable and familiar manner.
- Lets the subconscious do its thing, sizing up the other person without being overloaded.
- Is a way of “treading water” in conversation until you find points of common interest.
Seen this way, small talk is an essential part of first meeting someone and getting to know them.
When I worked as a social host on cruise ships, small talk was unavoidable. I started 100’s of conversations with questions like “How has your cruise been so far?” or “What do you have planned for today?”
These weren’t groundbreaking openers, but they were effective.
How this helps you talk to that girl in the sundress
When you realize you don’t have to be witty to start a conversation, it can really knock off some pressure.
In most cases, bringing up an obvious topic like the weather or what they’re wearing is enough. The trick is to just say something, then use their replies to keep the dialog moving.
Once you get the hang of small talk, you’ll see that many times it doesn’t matter so much what you say, but how you say it.
Simple, NOT Boring
And the “how you say it” part is important. I want to be clear here when I say to start things simple, I’m not saying to be boring or have a flat tone of voice.
I’m just saying your content doesn’t have to be all that spectacular.
Basically as long as you’re smiling, have good body language and are positive, your interaction with a new person is likely to go well.
Plus, once you get to know each other, things are much less likely to be plain or ordinary anymore.
Stop yourself next time you’re trying to think up a “great” conversation starter.
Then relax and remember that a smile, some enthusiasm and a “Beautiful day today, huh?” will probably work better for starting conversations than anything “clever” you would’ve come up with.
But know what’s really clever?
Knowing how to connect with people when you DO start talking to them.
So, y’know, they feel those “warm fuzzys” toward you.
And they think, “this person’s pretty cool…”
And…well, they hang around.
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