How to Start a Conversation, Part 1: Get this One Thing to Get Started

Does this sound familiar?

You’re watching TV and suddenly notice someone talking…

Turning to the voice, you discover she’s talking to you, is halfway done speaking and you have no idea what she’s talking about?

Ok yes, that was my girlfriend yesterday. (D’oh!) But it points out an important lesson you need to learn, especially when talking to someone for the first time…

In this three-part series on How to Start a Conversation, I’ll share a simple process that’s surprisingly flexible. It works because it’s simple and based on human nature.

Your first step in talking to someone new is small, but it sets the stage for everything to come.

Get this and you’ll get conversations started

The first part of any conversation is to get the person’s attention. This can be done many ways, sometimes as subtle as how you walk up. But for now, we’ll go with the basics.

In the above example, my girlfriend didn’t get my attention so the conversation was a FAIL. I had no idea what she was saying since I’d missed the beginning.

When you start a conversation with someone new, things are a bit different. Not only could they miss what you’re saying, they might also feel caught off guard.

That’s worse.

You need to give people a mental pause to switch from what they’re doing (web surfing, daydreaming, plotting world domination) to realizing you want to say something to them. Otherwise you’re more likely to get awkward beginnings.

Easy to remember two-part process to get attention:

  1. Smile. Helps you seem non-threatening and suggests you have good intentions.
  2. Open with a greeting. Simple often works best such as: “Hi”; “Hi, how are you doing?”; “Excuse me…”; “Good evening”; “Hey!”; or even “So…”

At this point, don’t continue talking until you have their attention. How will you know?

Well, they should be looking at you (which only takes a split second). If they didn’t hear you, go ahead and repeat your greeting.

Now I know you’re thinking, JUST SAYING THAT ISN’T A CONVERSATION.

You’re right, and we’ll discuss that in later posts. For now, the point is just to get their attention.

Slow Down, Reduce Anxiety & Talk to More People

Getting attention may seem simple and obvious, but shy talkers often skip it.

Nervousness and anxiety cause them to either say nothing, or rush in and say too much too soon.

Unfortunately, when this happens the conversation can begin awkwardly and the budding conversationalist takes it personally thinking, “I’m not good enough.”

In fact, what happened was just a natural reaction of the other person being thrust into a conversation before he was ready.

By using a simple “Hey,” with a smile, you get the person’s attention AND ease your nervousness by starting with something so easy. Plus, smiling just makes you feel spectacular.

And before you object…NO it isn’t always necessary to start a conversation like this. But it can be a good tool to have in your conversation arsenal.

Getting Attention is a Two-For-One Technique

One other reason this is great– it puts you on the spot.

Here’s what I mean by that…

I was ignored often in the past. I’d start talking to someone in a tiny voice, without getting their attention. They wouldn’t respond, but I actually felt relieved.

I’d think, “Oh well, they didn’t hear me. At least I tried.”

Then I’d leave, happy I didn’t have to talk but upset I still wasn’t good at this conversation thing.

I've talked on mic and DJed for years. Getting attention is the biz. You need to do the same in conversations.

That’s not healthy!

By making sure you have someone’s attention, it gets you in the habit (and mindset) of having people acknowledge you.

It takes away the (false) excuse you’re not important enough to be listened to. It pushes you to learn how to start a conversation.

This may feel scary, but you’ll get there little by little. This technique will help.

Take Action

Next time you talk to someone, even a current friend or a family member, practice getting their attention first.

Even if you don’t think it’s necessary, at least you’ll develop the habit. Then it’ll feel natural when approaching someone new.

As a bonus, you’ll never have to compete for attention with a LOST TV marathon ever again. (not easy to do! Just ask my girlfriend…)

What about you?

Do you want to learn how to grab people’s attention positively so they enjoy talking to you…with everyone wondering how you do it?

While still being yourself?

And without having to memorize lines?

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