How to Start a Good Conversation With Someone You Don't Know

Focus on being interested, not interesting.
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Starting a conversation with someone you don’t know can make even the most confident person feel a bit nervous. However, while it is easier to have a good conversation with a friend or loved one, the ability to be a successful conversationalist with anyone can be developed and cultivated with practice.

1 Prepare in Advance

Gathering a few good topics in advance can help you feel more confident when you approach someone you don’t know for a conversation. Think about experiences that recently happened to you that others may find interesting. Maud Purcell, a licensed social worker writing for "Psych Central," recommends browsing news shows or websites and writing down some thoughts about current events that are taking place. Prepare a list of questions you could ask another person. These questions may involve asking others about their job, classes, interests, hobbies or their opinions about a certain subject. Stay away from controversial or potentially uncomfortable topics, such as those dealing with religion, money and politics, as these can quickly shut down a conversation or lead to arguments.

2 Introduce Yourself

It’s not necessary to be witty or clever when you introduce yourself, according to the Shyness Research Institute from Indiana University Southeast. Simply focus on being genuine and sincere. When you approach the other person to start the conversation, give him a warm smile and clearly state your name. Explain who you are and why you want to have the conversation. Remember to speak at a regular pace, taking care not to speak too quickly or slowly, so that the other person will have no difficulty understanding you.

3 Begin the Conversation

Bring up a general, non-controversial topic to begin the conversation. A comment about the weather or a current event may be most appropriate. Avoid beginning the conversation with anything too personal, as this may make the other person feel uncomfortable or reluctant to continue the conversation. After you make your opening comments, give the person an adequate time to respond. Show a sincere interest in the thoughts she expresses about the subject.

4 Continue the Conversation

If you are building a rapport, feel free to move on to a bit more personal topics to continue the conversation. You may want to ask about his favorite hobby, his career, his classes or upcoming events. Open-ended questions -- those that can't be answered by a simple "yes" or "no" -- help to keep a conversation going. If there is a conversational lull, ask him to expand on a previous comment by asking questions such as, “How did you feel when that happened?” or “Can you tell me more about that?” This will help keep the conversation flowing freely and make your conversational partner feel valued and appreciated.

5 End the Conversation

When you have run out of things to say or need to move on to do something else, prepare your exit strategy. You may say that you need to use the bathroom or catch up with someone else. Let the other person know how much you enjoyed talking to her. If appropriate, make plans to talk again at a later date.

Elizabeth Wolfenden has been a professional freelance writer since 2005 with articles published on a variety of blogs and websites. She specializes in the areas of nutrition, health, psychology, mental health and education. Wolfenden holds a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's degree in counseling from Oakland University.