The Internet has tons of resources to help you develop your conversation skills, not to mention your confidence (it’s so nice to learn that you’re not the only one who is apprehensive about talking to strangers). I’ve also listed some articles/projects where people document their attempts to talk to strangers, some funny articles that tap into the real trickiness that can accompany interactions, some videos, and even some articles that argue against talking to strangers. Finally, I’ve listed some organizations that encourage people to talk to one another, and various reports that do the same. If you have suggestions for further resources I should list (or any links are broken), please email me. If you find these helpful, let me know – I’d love to hear from you. Good luck in your adventures!
Tips on how to talk to strangers
- Article with TONS of useful links, with tips from what to talk about to, importantly, how to end conversations.
- Conversations with strangers almost necessarily start with small talk, but you can learn ways to enjoy these conversations more, and to turn them into something deeper. Time management guru Laura Vanderkam shares tips learned from small-talk expert Debra Fine.
- Laura Vanderkam’s “7 ways to gracefully exit a conversation”, including having a wingman.
- The author talks about she’s always been shy, why she decided to “get it under control”, and how she did it (though it’s still hard). link
- The same author talks about how to survive a party (or other event) where you don’t know anybody. She talks about how to find someone to talk to, and what to say once you do.
- An introverted business school professor shares “how I’ve managed to strike the balance between meeting new people – and being exposed to interesting new ideas – and not having to initiate awkward conversations”. link
- Another introverted author talks about how to connect to people at a conference (“a massive space with lots of people, noise, and activity”). I love her tip on helping yourself by making others feel comfortable – that’s a trick I use myself.
- The insightful Jeff Haden’s “10 habits of genuinely charming people” could be co-opted to help grease the wheels during your conversations with strangers.
- Similarly, you might want to adopt some of these “10 rules of a great conversationalist”, including being genuinely interested in your conversation partner.
- TED article with 3 tips on how to prolong and have more interesting conversations (tip 1 is “Ask for stories, not answers”).
- Ok, not exactly a tip for talking to strangers, but a tip for getting to a deeper, more interesting conversation. The author encourages “Introducing your friends for who they are rather than focusing on what they do”, so “conversations…don’t begin and end with who has the most interesting job in the room”.
People reporting on their attempts to talk to more strangers
- Results of a 21-day experiment to talk to more strangers. I love how the author discusses how difficult it was at times – I’ve felt all those things. At the end he offers 4 tips for starting conversations. Bottom line: “Almost every interaction left me feeling a little happier. I also felt like I learned new things by talking to people from different walks of life who I wouldn’t normally meet.”
- Results of a week-long experiment to talk to people on the train. Again, I can relate to the authors difficulties in getting started and maintaining a conversation, and to the fun in the successful ones. Her conclusion: “When there was an actual jumping-off point for a conversation — a book, coffee-flavored chips, super-cool pants — the other person was very receptive, and it resulted in an actual back-and-forth. As nervous as I was to break the ice, those experiences were surprisingly fun.”
- Projects telling the stories of average people, encounters with strangers
- A ball pit with a sign “Take a seat and make a friend”. Conversation starters were written on the balls. Shows unlikely pairs of strangers connecting with one another, revealing their dreams and inspirations, finding things in common.
- TED talks:
- “10 ways to have a better conversation” by writer and radio host Celeste Headlee (who is also incredibly smart, has more energy than most mere mortals, and is trained as an opera singer!)
- “Why you should talk to strangers” by Kio Stark. She’s also written a little bitty book published by TED, which cites some of my research, and written this article about how to gracefully exit conversations.
- “Connected, but alone?” by psychologist and sociologist Sherry Turkle, who studies the effects of technology on social connection.
- Funny article (with cartoon drawings!) about some of the awkward situations that arise when interacting with friends and family (e.g., “The Handshake/Hug Decision of Doom” – “There are different rules for everyone and nothing’s clear—Do I shake my grandfather’s hand or go for the hug?”), acquaintances, and strangers (e.g., “Nice to Meet You / Nice to See You Disaster” when “you’re not entirely sure of whether the person you’re introducing yourself to is actually a stranger”).
- Funny, because oh so true. “Everything I am afraid might happen if I ask new acquaintances to get coffee”.
- Fake news in the Onion, “a new report…revealed Wednesday that it’s never okay to just start talking to someone you don’t know”. Ironically, it lists many effective ways to connect with strangers (e.g., sharing a common situation or an interest).
Articles arguing against talking to strangers
- “Surely the point of living in a city is that you don’t have to talk to anybody. That’s certainly a big part of why I moved to one.” link
- Number 1 on this list of 11 ways to embarrass yourself in London is “Speaking to anyone you don’t know on public transport”. According to this article, “most people will think you’re either crazy, chatting them up, or are about to rob you.”
Organizations encouraging people to talk to one another
- The Campaign to End Loneliness
- The Samaritans’ Small Talk Saves Lives campaign
- The Human Library
- Say Hi to a Stranger, based in Vancouver, Canada
Reports and white papers that encourage talking to strangers
- It’s good to talk: Overcoming the barriers that stop us talking to strangers. Report from the (now-defunct) non-profit Talk to Me. My work with this wonderful organization led me to develop How to Talk to Strangers workshops.
- Report from the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce), recommending that “local and central government need to invest in helping to turn ‘strangers into neighbours’”
- Report from the Vancouver Mayor’s Engaged City Task Force, which recommends “Enabling community connections at a neighbourhood level”
- Deeper Everyday Connection: Matt McStavrick’s manifesto for putting “meaningful relationships at the centre of service design solutions”