Reader Question Answered: How to Talk to Strangers Confidently Without Practicing

A member of my Conversation Tips Newsletter recently emailed me the following two questions:

  1. How do you talk to someone you don’t know?
  2. How do you build your confidence, other than practicing talking (because sometimes you don’t have time, or you’ve tried and failed enough)

These are two questions I get asked often. So I’ve included my response below in the hopes it might help you too.

My Response


So a couple of big questions here. I’ll do my best to give you some good suggestions here in this short email.

The short answer to your first question is really confidence. Once you are more confident in yourself and your social abilities, you can more easily go up and talk to people you don’t know.

There’s always this debate of “what do I say?” when talking to a stranger. But really, if you have more confidence, you can say almost anything and it will work.

  • Because the other person will sense the confidence in your voice.
  • They’ll sense it in your body language.
  • They’ll sense it radiating from you in ways you can’t fake.

This will put them at ease a bit and they’ll be more accepting which will make it easier to engage them. Now you can fake some of this a little. You can focus on better eye contact and posture, etc. But ultimately, you really need to be confident.

How to Build Confidence

The ONLY way I’ve found to truly build confidence is by DOING the thing you lack confidence in. So yes that means, if you lack confidence talking to people, you HAVE to talk to more people to gain confidence.

I know that sounds like a catch 22, but there is a way to do it.

It’s nothing revolutionary.

You do it by taking baby steps. This also addresses your concerns of not having time and failing.

There are likely people around you on a daily basis you can practice on who also don’t intimidate you too much. For example, you can practice basic conversation skills on your:

  • coworkers
  • family
  • current friends
  • the checkout clerk at the coffee shop
  • etc

The point is, you practice basic skills in settings where you are already around people. This way, you aren’t spending any more time on it than you normally would throughout your day. Also, since you’re around these people (mentioned above) on a more normal basis, you’re likely going to be less intimidated.

There will be less worry about failing.

By doing things this way, when you DO see a stranger you’d like to talk to, you’ll have more practice under your belt. You’ll be just that much LESS intimidated because of all the social “weight-lifting” you’ve been doing elsewhere. So you’ll be more likely to try talking to that person than otherwise.

And of course, that serves as practice too, right?

The Smart Way to Practice

When I wanted to get better at all this, I did just what I described above. I started practicing basic conversation skills with my current friends, family, coworkers, etc.

Seeing how (consciously) good I could be in conversation in those settings gave me a confidence boost. I also began to see how bad many other people’s conversation skills are. That boosted my confidence more.

Then I moved up to talking to more and more intimidating strangers. Sure, I sucked at times and felt a bit embarrassed. But I was ABLE to step out and try because of the practice I had done before which built up my confidence.

What shocked me in those situations was that sometimes when talking to a stranger, I’d do AMAZING! It’s like I just knew what to say and how to say it. It wasn’t stuff I’d rehearsed saying in advance or anything…it just flowed out of me.

What I’ve discovered is, when you start to build your confidence, you worry less in social situations. When you worry less, your brain is more free to spontaneously come up with stuff to say in conversations. So really, building confidence through experience is the KEY.

So that’s a bit of a long winded answer. If you’d like to hear more on this concept, I actually wrote a post on Pick the Brain titled: Are You Messing Up the Simple X+Y=Z Formula For Building Confidence?

Hope this helps!



What Are Your Questions

So I hope that response also helps you. If you have questions or want even more advice on building confidence, overcoming shyness, and improving conversation skills, you can sign up for my free newsletter by clicking here.

You can also leave questions and comments below.

(Photo courtesy of Tom Hart via Flickr)

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