“So…Do You Come Here Often?”: Conversation Starters for the Socially Challenged

In the middle of the kitchen at a recent party, my two girl friends and I found ourselves standing in the corner near the keg discussing awkward conversation starters. Awkward conversation starters usually fly from the mouths of people who are trying too hard.  We had many laughs trying to come up with the most awkward conversation starters, but the truth of the matter is there are people out there who cannot start a conversation to save their lives! In a recent episode of This American Life called “Say Anything” , author Neil Chesanow read excerpts from the once-popular-now-out-of-print book, Please Read This for Me: How to Tell the Man You Love Things You Can’t Put into Words. The book features scripted conversations, almost like monologues, for women to read aloud to the men in their lives, to help them say the things they were having trouble saying. Titles of these conversations were like, “Let’s be Husband and Wife” or “Time to Admit You Don’t Have a Drinking Problem, You’re an Alcoholic” and “You’d Probably Prefer if I were an Orphan” and even more serious ones such as “I’m Falling Out of Love.”

In the spirit of these scripted conversations and for those people who find themselves socially challenged in situations where they might have to start a conversation, I’d like to offer up a few of my own scripted conversations for both men and women who find it difficult to strike up a conversation in various social situations.  Here are several different scenarios accompanied by a script on how to respond:

Scenario #1: Someone new enters your established group of friends at a social gathering.
You: Hi, my name is [insert your name here]. shakes hand, looks the other person in the eye.
Person: I’m [whatever his or her name is].
You: Nice to meet you, [insert his or her name]. How do you know everyone here?
Person: I’m [insert their relationship with host of party or group members].
You: Oh great! I know [insert your relationship with someone at the party or in the group].
Person: [insert some sort of bland follow-up comment].
You: Awesome. Hey, I’m going to go get another drink. Can I get you one?
Person: Sure, thanks. I’ll have a [insert drink].
You: I’ll be back. Gracefully exit. Head to the bar or fridge and buy or pick out a drink for your new friend.

Scenario #2: You bring someone new to a social gathering filled with a group that is already close friends.
You: Hi, everyone! I’d like you to meet my [insert your relationship with your guest] [insert his or her name]. Point to said person. [Guest’s name] is a [insert profession] and enjoys [insert one of their hobbies].
Even better…pick out someone in the group that you think your guest will particularly like and enjoy chatting with in your absence. Specifically introduce your guest to this person. For example:
You: Hey, [insert your friend’s name]. I’d like you to meet [insert guest’s name]. [Guest’s name] is a [insert profession] just like you are!
Friend: That is wonderful! It’s always nice to meet someone who is a [insert profession] just like me.
Guest: The pleasure is all mine. I love meeting fellow [insert profession]s.
Friend: Say, what do you think of [insert the latest news in mutual profession].
Guest: Truly absurd!
Your work is done. Now you can go catch up with old friends while your guest makes new ones.

Scenario #3: You would like to strike up a conversation with a total stranger.
When talking to a total stranger, you have to start with an ice breaker; a comment on the weather, a joke, a comment on the local sports team, an observation about something going on in the room…ANYTHING. Don’t wait for him or her to talk to you because he or she probably lacks your stellar social skills. P.S. It’s helpful to start with a question because that forces the stranger to answer you.

Ice breaker#1: Observation
You: Hey, your necklace is totally cute. Where’d you buy it from?
Stranger: Ann Taylor Loft.
You: Love it. I want one.
Stranger: You should totally get one.
You: I will. I’m [insert your name] by the way. Raise your hand to start handshake.
Stranger: Nice to meet you, [your name]. I’m [stranger’s name].
You: It’s a pleasure to meet you.
You’re on the road to becoming best friends.

Icebreaker #2 Comment on the weather.
You: Wow, do you every think it will stop snowing? Sheesh!
Stranger: Probably not.
You: I can’t stand this weather. I hate having to plow my car out every morning. Don’t you?
Stranger: Totally.
You: It’s the worst, especially when you don’t have a scraper. You know what I mean?
Stranger: Totally.
You: Are you from this area originally?
Stranger: Yeah.
You: This is a great area to be from. I love [insert a local speciality] in this town.
Not everyone is a Chatty Cathy so you’ve done a good job. Now either introduce yourself or find another stranger and try another tactic.

Icebreaker #3: Comment on the local sports team.
You: Hey, how about those [insert local sports team name]?! Think they’ll make it to the [insert name of the respective sport’s final tournament].
Stranger: They better! I have a lot of money riding on this one.
You: No kidding?! That’s awesome. Do you bet a lot?
Stranger: I practically live in Vegas. It’s my life.
You: Wow, that’s some serious dedication. I’ve never been to Vegas before.
Stranger: You should totally go. You’d absolutely love it.
You: Really?
Stranger: Really. You have to do it.
You: Maybe I will. I’m [insert your name] by the way. Initiate handshake.
Stranger: I’m [insert his or her name].
Not only have you successfully navigated your way through a conversation, you’ve also made a new friend and secured yourself a bookie.

Icebreaker #4 Make a joke.
You: Say, do you know what pirates like to eat?
Stranger: Actually, I don’t.
You: Barrrrbecue.
Stranger: Laughs out loud. That’s hysterical.
You: Oh please. You’re making me blush. My name is [insert name], by the way. Initiate handshake.
Stranger: My name is [insert name]. It’s nice to meet you.
You: Nice to meet, you, too.
Since you are a master conversationalist, it is up to where you would like to lead the conversation from there. You continue getting to know the stranger or you could test your charms on another stranger.

See, now that wasn’t so hard, was it? Follow these simple scripts and you are on your way to becoming the next leader of your local Toastmasters chapter.