Sometimes the idea of talking to people at an event, especially when you’re attending alone can be terrifying. How do you even begin the conversation?
What ends up happening next is that you find yourself starting to over analyze, right?
You think about what you’re doing with your hands; are you making too much eye-contact, or maybe not enough eye-contact? Suddenly you become hyper aware of your breathing, of how thirsty you are and the next thing you know- you’re frozen.
I used to feel this way a lot, especially as a solo-goer to a lot of different conferences and events. You no longer have the comfort of having a friend or colleague nearby that you can latch onto.
But sometimes you can actually make the best connections by not having any other crutch. And as the saying goes, the best time to do something new and scary, is when fear is at its highest.
Why we get nervous when talking to new people.
Before you can even start to consider how to approach talking to someone, it’s important to understand why it is you’re getting nervous in the first place.
Start by being self-reflective and asking yourself what’s stopping you from approaching new conversation. The reality is that the reason typically stems from a place of anxiety and the fear of rejection or embarrassment.
As a result, rather than facing the anxiety and dealing with it head on, many people prefer avoiding the issue altogether. And this is entirely understandable! Why would anyone want to face their fears when the option of just running away is also present?
Well the truth is, although it’s easier to avoid situations which bring up our social anxiety, it can actually be very fulfilling and rejuvenating to challenge those situations that result in anxious thoughts, and thus overcome them altogether.
Once you embrace the worst that can happen, and act in spite of it, the fear slowly starts to disappear.
9 Ways You Can Start Talking to People Today:
1) Just introduce yourself
It seems simple right? Almost too simple, but the fact is that just introducing yourself is the easiest way to enter a conversation and start talking to someone new. You probably don’t want to bud into an existing, engaged conversation between two people, otherwise you’ll probably end up standing there awkwardly for the majority of it.
In order to avoid a stressful situation that results in you sweating profusely in silence while two other individuals continue a previous conversation, try approaching someone else who doesn’t seem too preoccupied.
Usually at events you’ll notice people standing or sitting somewhere alone, either starting at their phone screen, and occasionally looking up and around. This is a sign that the person is probably also alone and hoping to meet some new people.
2) Reference a topic that has mutual appeal
As I mentioned before, I often attend a lot of events on my own. Now I’m at the point where I usually run into a lot of familiar faces, or I’m speaking at the event which makes it a lot easier to approach people.
But before, it wasn’t so easy to get the conversation going.
One of the best approaches that worked for me was to make reference to something that had just occurred. For instance if I was attending a talk, I would spark up a conversation with someone who was also in the same session. It makes it easier to reference a specific topic.
For instance, if you were attending a Tony Robbins event, you already know that everyone else attending the event is probably already a fan of his. You could ask what their favorite books are of his, or if they saw his Netflix special. See where I’m going with this?
The point is to try to keep the topic you reference relatively specific. By limiting yourself to something specific, you can actually open up a lot more doors for organic conversation.
Try not to ask something too vague. It usually doesn’t result in very meaningful discussion.
3) Become interested in them
You might feel compelled to begin talking about yourself and all of your wonderful accomplishments when you first meet someone, but it can actually be a lot more beneficial to show more interest in the other person.
After all, people love talking about themselves. In fact, the Harvard University Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab (I know, it’s a mouthful) ran various studies to explore this exact idea.
It turns out that self-disclosure (or in other words, talking about yourself) actually activated the dopamine system, which is the part of the brain most closely linked with feelings of pleasure and motivation.
So what does this mean for you?
Well, by allowing someone else to share information about themselves with you, you’re actually helping them achieve a more pleasurable state. So by association, they will connect their experience of conversing with you, as highly stimulating and motivating! Not a bad thing when you’re trying to make new friends.
4) Maintain eye contact and smile
Piggybacking off of the previous point, by maintaining eye contact and smiling, you further reinforce that you’re interested in what someone has to say.
But when it comes to initiating conversation, holding eye contact with someone and then smiling is a major invitation to start up a conversation. Of course you don’t want to stare the person down and freak them out.
So how do you make eye contact without coming off as too awkward? There’s actually a trick to it.
I decided a few years ago to run an experiment on the topic of eye contact. A friend of mine in university was feeling down because she was having a hard time meeting guys. So I told her that it was a lot easier to accomplish than she thought.
To prove a point, we sat outside of a busy student building to have our lunch. Every time someone walked by, I would make eye contact with them, and hold it for just two seconds too long.
Now usually there is a point when you start feeling awkward- this is about 1 second into holding eye contact. In most cases, we get this urgent feeling to look away, or we tend to make this face instead:
Don’t deny it, we’ve all done it.
But instead of looking away immediately, by holding that eye contact for just two seconds longer, and following up with a warm smile (again, not the awkward pursed lips smile above) you not only appear more confident, but also very approachable.
Anyway, back to the story- my friend ended up talking to three different guys that day (and yes, all of them gave their numbers). Besides, the worst case scenario is that the person will just look away and keep walking.
5) Don’t treat it like networking
The worst thing you can do when it comes to networking is to treat the process like networking. The problem with this is that we then tend to approach the idea of a conversation as a “business proposition”. As a result, the interaction becomes very forced and impersonal.
Instead, try approaching it more as a strategy for making new friends. Chances are you won’t start a conversation with someone you want to be friends with by extending a business card first.
Some of the best networking I’ve done and some of the best connections I’ve made in the past were the result of not talking about work.
By establishing a more personal relationship with people, not only are they more likely to continue the conversation after the event in question, but there is a friendship there and so they are more willing to help me out when I do have a specific business proposition.
6) Go for compliments
Just like people like to hear themselves talk, they love it even more when someone else has nice things to say. Complimenting people is a great way to get a conversation going, but also a great way to stick in someone’s mind.
I remember there was one instance recently at a conference I was attending, and one of the attendees did a double take as she walked by. She commented on my eyebrows. I remember because it was very specific, but also because I had put a lot of work into my eyebrows that day so I was happy they were being noticed.
By complimenting someone on something specific, you increase your chances of being remembered and well liked. Keep it professional and polite, like commenting on someone’s eyes, their jewelry or their shoes.
7) Use subtle humour
Loretta Laroche is a humorist and speaks frequently on using humor as a way to cope with stress and anxiety. In many cases, humor is also a great way to start talking to people.
The trick of course is to use humor as a tool, and not make jokes at the expense of others. You want to get people laughing with you and avoid coming off as rude or insulting in any way.
Personally, I enjoy using self-deprecating or situational humor when in environments that require me to meet new people. It often shows people that I can take a joke and that I don’t take myself too seriously. Using humor in this way can make you seem more playful and approachable.
For instance, if you’re sitting at a lunch table and you spill some food on yourself, rather than shying away and recoiling from embarrassment, you can call yourself out and laugh about it. By doing this you invite others to join in on the fun. If you can laugh at yourself, you don’t leave anyone with an opportunity to beat you to the punchline.
8) Remain positive and keep an open mind
Nobody likes a Negative Nancy. Have you ever met someone and all they could do was complain about every little thing? It’s annoying right?
By remaining positive, and exhibiting a genuine and open outlook on your surroundings, you’ll naturally draw people to you. Of course, staying positive is easier said than done.
As human beings we have a natural tendency to stay on the lookout for possible and imminent threats. Being able to maintain a positive outlook requires some deliberation of course. You need to work towards being very self-aware and monitoring how you react to various situations.
Whenever you find yourself leaning towards negativity in the way you communicate (either verbally or physically) try to correct the behaviour. In time you will find yourself feeling more confident and as a result, more charming to those around you.
9) Give yourself a task or a goal to accomplish
Lastly, another great way to meet people at an event is to make a game out of it, or to give yourself a goal. One game I like to play is to see how many business cards I can get. I’ll tell myself that by the end of the day I should have 20 new business cards in my hand.
By attributing something tangible that I need to acquire by the end of the day, it makes the task easier to accomplish. Eventually you’ll find yourself talking to people with more ease because the fear of conversation is no longer at the forefront of your mind, and instead you’re focusing on the simple action of getting a new business card.
It’s completely normal to freeze when faced with the task of speaking to people at events. Just know that you’re not alone. In fact, chances are that the majority of attendees are feeling the exact same way that you are. Use the tips above as subtle reminders to help you the next time you need to attend an event.
And if you know someone who might benefit from the above suggestions and pointers, share this article with them.