How to Talk to Anyone

As children, we are taught not to talk to strangers, yet when we go to school, college, and enter the workforce we are required to speak to strangers. Learning the art of conversation is an essential communication skill. We have all been there, the awkward new person. The shy person trying to get a sense of where we belonged. How often do you take the observer role in a meeting instead of being an active contributor? We spend too much time looking at screens and not enough time learning how to communicate with others face to face.

I remember meeting a new account representative for a communications company. The representative was a sweet young professional. She was confident when she entered my office and introduced herself to me one on one. However, when she attended her first Business After Hours event, she became the shy wallflower. I approached her, addressed her by name, and said “this is not how to network”, then I hooked my arm through hers and lead her to a table where three people we engaged in conversation. When there was a pause in the conversation, I introduced her to each person at the table and then left… the others instantly engaged her in the conversation and her networking began. At the next networking event, I observed that she was more confident with approaching strangers.

First let me say, that you are important and you have great insight and experiences to share with others. Opportunities are around us all the time to meet new people. Just like any other soft skill, having the skill to talk to anyone about anything is something that needs to be practiced all the time. Unless you are a very small company, I am sure there are many people in your company who you do not know. We encounter people everywhere, at stores, churches, service clubs, networking events, and conferences. We have the opportunity to engage in a conversation with a new person daily.

Here are a few simple steps to be able to engage and talk to anyone.

  • Approach with warm body language.
    • A closed-off person stands with their arms crossed, hands are hidden and do not make or keep eye contact.
    • Warm body language, is open arms, eye contact, and a smile.
  • Opening Line.
    • Your Smile is your opening line.
    • The easiest question to ask is: Hi, how are you?
      • You can even say: Hi, how are you? I am _______ (state your name).
  • Look for conversation sparks.
    • These are the non-verbal cues in body language and facial reactions that indicate you found something that connects you like a shared interest. Once you have found the spark you can then guide the conversation.
    • I was at a networking event and met a financial planner that just purchased a franchise and was new to the area. He was outgoing and pleasant, in our small talk he learned I was from Canada. He told me he was engaged and wanted to honeymoon in Banff. This led to a conversation about the best places for him to visit. 
  • Ask Questions, and listen to answers.
    • Ask personal questions, how long have you lived here? Where do you come from?
    • Personal questions engage the listener and show you are interested in them the person which makes it easier to find a conversation spark. Avoid the small talk, what do you do, the weather. You will have the opportunity to learn about their job during the conversation, don’t lead with this question.
      • Tell me about you.
      • What is your favorite hobby?
      • What was your highlight of the day?
  • Pay a unique, sincere compliment.
    • People will forget what you do and what you say, they will never forget how you made them feel.
  • Ask for an opinion.
    • Everyone has an opinion; we all want to be heard and seek validation. Keep it simple and generic and listen.
  • Be present in the conversation.
    • Keep eye contact and put the phone away.
  • Business Card Exchange.
    • If you have exchanged business cards, make a few notes on the card about keywords from your conversation, this will make it easier to remember the details, and connect when you follow up with them.
  • Your last impression is as important as the first impression.
    • Good luck with ____________ whatever it is they shared.

Remembering the little things about a person makes that person feel special when you see them again and can ask them about their children or activity you talked about. Finding that non-work common ground or shared interest makes it much easier to remember the details of a person.

When I lived in North Dakota, there was a family that just moved into the area at the start of the oil boom, the woman said she always remembered me because I was the first person to say hello to her and I asked her about her family. I learned that we had children close in age and that got the conversation going.

Another time, I had met a new person and the next time I saw that person I asked after their family member, they were truthfully surprised I remembered. The more we practice the better we become.

Opportunities are around us all the time to meet new people, seize the opportunity each day to practice your conversation skills.

Cheryl Viola, MBA, Executive Director


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Varadan, M. (2016, January 11). 7 Ways to Make a Conversation With Anyone [Video]. Retrieved from