How to Start a Conversation

20. April 2020

Have you been invited to a social event somewhere unknown or is it your first day at work at a new job, where you don’t know the people yet and need to start a conversation? How should you address someone, like a seasoned socialite, without feeling embarrassed? How not to experience a moment of seemingly endless, embarrassing silence?



First, remember that you are not the only one in the world who is stressed by these situations. With me, there are at least two of us. It helps to keep in mind that during the first moments of conversation, each of us are more focused more on what other person is thinking and what kind of first impression we’re making. So, from that it follows that whatever you’re saying, the other person is probably not fully concentrating on your words, because they are busy concentrating on themselves.

Another tip is to have the whole situation well prepared in advance. What do I mean by this?

Today’s social networks make it a breeze to find out at least some detail about each of those present, which will make it easier for you to start a conversation. If you know she likes to cook or he plays tennis, it becomes no problem to start conversing on one of the topics mentioned. But if you can’t find out anything because up against opponents of modern technology or you simply don’t know who you’re going to meet, then smile warmly at the first meeting, offer a friendly hand to say hello, introduce yourself and ask a question using the tried and true FORM technique:

F – Family

You can ask: Where are you from? Do you have children? When did you move here?

O – Occupation

What is your job? Have you always been doing that? How long have you been with that company? What did you do before?

R – Recreation

What do you do in your spare time? Do you play golf? What about that weather today?

I notice you chose sushi, that’s my favorite. Do you know of any good restaurants around here? That is a very nice jacket (purse or shoes), where did you get it? The welcome champagne wasn’t bad, but just yesterday I tasted some excellent champagne – and go into where and what it was like.

M – Money

This doesn’t mean asking about personal earnings, the price of their house or car they’ve arrived in, but rather something like this: What’s going on with the price of oil these days? The crown has appreciated, what do you think will happen next? The stock market seems to be stagnating, what do you think?


Acceptable and Forbidden Subjects

Keep in mind that all questions regarding weather, food, travel, vacations, fashion, culture or leisure activities are appropriate. Forget about money, health, politics, religion or sexuality.

When I mentioned at the beginning of the blog that it was necessary to prepare, I meant that in the evening before the event, quickly browse through the latest news in the media, across sections – at least their headlines. There is nothing worse than when a group of people starts talking about a hot topic, like coronavirus now, and you don’t even know what it is or have any idea such a disease is spreading all over the world.


Personal Space and Eye Contact

What you should not forget during small talk is that you must always respect each person’s personal zone. Try to sense where it is, because everyone’s is a little different. Generally, up to 45 cm is defined for very close relationships, and about 90 cm and more is the distance for the more formal ones. The distance to be observed is usually set by the socially more significant person, protocol rules and customs in the given locality.

Equally important is making the right eye contact, which is the well-known main gateway to communication. If you do not make eye contact, you do not communicate. Normal eye contact duration is estimated to be three seconds, making up 30% to 60% of total time during a conversation. A standard look is one that lasts from one to seven seconds. A longer look indicates greater interest, also superiority, and may also be a sign of hostility or aggression.


Non-Verbal Body Language

What can further ease your situation and relieve your nervousness is the art of reading body language and retransmitting desirable information. Pay attention to non-verbal cues, to know whether your subject has hit the mark or, on the contrary, failed to achieve the desired effect.


Here are a few tips from the non-verbal communication dictionary:

  • Partners, who are on common ground and in agreement have similar body movements, and turn towards each other.
  • In communication, it is necessary to avoid so-called defense postures (hands at your sides), closed postures calling up uncertainty (crossed arms of chest, crossed legs)
    and even mentor gestures (lifted forefinger).
  • Use accommodating signals such as nodding to confirm consent or gesturing with palms facing up (as a symbol of honesty). Also welcome is an open posture, where a person sits or stands relaxed, with his or her hands resting on a table or loosely on their body, and when moving, the palms are turned to face upward. An open, relaxed attitude and communication with open palms have a very positive effect on interpersonal relationships, create a good atmosphere and contribute to gaining the confidence of partners.
  • Let the other person speak more – people love when they can talk about themselves.
  • A step back indicates an attempt at escape, or aversion.
  • A step forward, on the other hand, expresses sympathy, or an attack.
  • Making a steeple out of your fingers towards the other person indicates disagreement.
  • Hands resting against the table and joined at the level of the mouth and chin – keeping a distance.
  • Hands places loosely on the table – approachability
  • Hand movements over your face – uncertainty, thinking, deciding.
  • If you support your head, everyone can immediately see you’re bored. The more you hold your head in your hands, the less you are enjoying the situation.
  • Playing with a chain, bracelet, or ring tells of your embarrassment, your desire to free yourself from the situation.


And in conclusion, a few wise communication tricks from experience CNN announcer Larry King:

  • Be natural, talk to people honestly and openly, then they too will open up.
  • Select topics of interest to you. This way, you will speak with interest and engage others.
  • Always be in a good mood so that it is a pleasure to listen to you. Show that you are enjoying the conversation. It is not possible to pretend enthusiasm.
  • Do not speak seriously for too long. Choose partners with a sense of humor who can laugh at themselves.
  • A good companion knows how to listen attentively. You can tell if someone is a good companion if they ask appropriate questions.
  • Be interesting if you want to be interested. You won’t learn anything new from talking. Learn from others by listening to them.
  • Expand your horizons – travel, read, meet people from different backgrounds who will enrich you internally.


Have no fear and go for it! Try starting a conversation with a stranger on the street or in a shop today; apply one of our tips and don’t let yourself get discouraged by potential failure. It takes training to become a master. And most importantly, you’re living here and now, so it’s pointless to worry over something that has already happened and is in the past.