Arrive early to parties and functions. Why? Because it is easier to find another person on their own in the early stages of a gathering and being one of the first few lessens the chance of everyone already talking in groups when you turn up. However, if you’ve had to come later, target a small group to join that’s left, a gap in its circle.

Although deep down we are conditioned to think that small talk is trivial, we need to use it to connect with others. Small talk is the basis on which more authentic conversations grow.

When you walk into an event, you might be apprehensive. You won’t be alone in this. By reaching out to converse with others you can put both them and yourself at ease.

An observation about anything in the room can be all that is needed as an ice-breaker. For example, ‘Wow! These flower arrangements are lavish!’ You haven’t given away what you think about the flowers or criticised the host’s choice of flora; you’ve shown yourself to be friendly and open. You could follow it up with, ‘I wish I knew more about flowers. Do you know what those big ones in the centre are?’ Allowing the other person to display their knowledge is a good starter and even if they know as little about flowers as you, you have discovered common ground.

Asking questions is another way to start a conversation. The wedding classic is, ‘Do you know the bride or the groom?’ Other openers are, ‘How do you know our hosts?’ or ‘Where are you from?’ Listen to the answers for clues about where to go next with the conversation and bring out your inner journalist! When the other person names their hometown, ask them what it’s like to live there or what led them to be there. Asking their opinion is another technique – for example, ‘What did you think of that course module?’

When you are asked about yourself resist monosyllabic answers, which are conversation killers. Offer conversation bait instead. If the other person asks, ‘What have you been up to today?’, instead of responding with ‘Nothing exciting’ say something like, ‘I’ve been busy packing up my flat’ – this can give them a steer on what to ask you next.

Keep off contentious subjects like politics and religion. Learn at least one new fact a day from a reliable source and you’ll be amazed at how often these can be used as conversation topics. Broadening your knowledge of the world pays off on these occasions.

Striking up conversations with strangers takes practice. Don’t be put off by the odd disaster. You’ll become adept at it before you know it!


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