We’ve all experienced a little dose of shyness or a touch of social anxiety here or there. For many of us, speaking to people in a variety of settings just doesn’t feel as if it comes naturally and with the festive holidays around the corner, the idea of having small talks around the tables makes us feel worse.
Also, after socialising had almost come to a near standstill during the pandemic, these days everything seems to be a little harder than usual and you may have to re-train yourself to be with others again. If breaking the ice at gatherings can be a bit intimidating, consider little conversations as chances to learn something interesting instead of a pure exercise of networking. This way, you’ll find the right approach to break the ice, while relaxing and having fun.
Breaking the ice
As we age we might lose spontaneity at mixing and mingling with ease, but in general, if you feel a little awkward asking personal questions right out of the gate, it may work to use your environment and surroundings to create conversation. Comment on the food and drinks. Ask about the venue or location. You also can ask general interest questions, such as their favourite sports team or musician.
According to communication expert Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk, practical advice on how to start, hold, and end a conversation in both personal and business settings: “The easiest way to approach people at a party when you don’t know anyone is asking the host if there’s anyone he/she thinks you should meet and request an introduction – she says-. Don’t whine that you don’t know anyone and glue yourself to the host’s side all night“.
You might also kick-start a conversation with a description of an interesting, entertaining and/or funny story. Get right into your story description and then allow the other person to make a remark or share an opinion of the story. If your story is interesting enough, there really is no telling where it could take the ensuing dialogue and for how long you could stretch the conversation once your new friend gets on board.
Whatever you do, do say hello, and be genuine. If you’re the type who walks into a room and you don’t know what to say and you don’t say hello, never think they’re going to give you the benefit of the doubt. They’re going to think you’re avoiding them or a snob.
“The first couple minutes are the most crucial. If you can smile and make eye contact, that puts you in the right place,” said Akash Karia, a speaker and performance coach who has written books including Small Talk Hacks. “You’ll know someone is looking to chat if they’re scanning the room,” he said. “If you see someone like that, that’s a perfect person to approach.”
Still too difficult for you? After sticking your hand out and introducing yourself, remember to cover these three basic points before moving on to any more meaningful conversation.
1. Use open-ended questions
These give the person answering some latitude in how he or she responds. For instance: “How do you know the host?”, “How’s that drink” or “Working on anything exciting lately?”
2. State a fact about yourself
What’s different about you? Distinguishing yourself is an important part of a first impression. Show off your unique side (Eg. “I collect dolls”, “I’m a writer”).
3. State an opinion
Speaking your opinion openly or simply expressing what you like make you appear more confident (“These appetizers are amazing” or “Lovely atmosphere, isn’t it?”).
Small Things That Count
Don’t be afraid of sincere flattery. Take note of something you truly appreciate about a person and then follow up with a question: “What a lovely coat. Is it vintage?” Then, talk about something you both have in common At the very least, you’re in the same place and experiencing the same weather. But don’t be afraid to dig deeper and find more interesting commonalities: maybe you’re from the same place, maybe you have a mutual friend, maybe you have a shared hobby, or maybe you work in similar roles.
Once engaged in a conversation, always ask, “How about you?” after you finish answering. People like to talk about themselves. So much so that, according to research from Harvard University, people will sometimes even give up money to be able to talk about themselves. Last but not least, make sure to refer to people by their name in a conversation, it makes them feel special and shows that you’ve been paying attention and put down your phone.