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7 Conversation Starters for When Small Talk Nerves Hit


These opening lines will help avoid those awkward silences.

people talking

Remember when you used to have no problem meeting someone new at a party and having a light conversation? Maybe you’d ask them about their day, shoot the breeze about a recent sporting event, then make a graceful exit. But that was in the “before times.” Now, after a year plus of minimal to no social obligations, you might be feeling a little nervous about having to once again engage in small talk.

This is especially true for people who suffer from social anxiety disorder, which is when a person becomes extremely self-conscious, even fearful, in social situations, believing that they’re being watched and judged by strangers they encounter. Even if your anxiety is on the milder side, it’s still natural to feel uncomfortable chatting up a stranger. What do you even say? What if you can’t think of anything funny or interesting? What if they are bored?

That’s where the following conversation starters can help. Have a few of these in mind and use them whenever you have an awkward silence to fill.

“I love your shoes!” Or purse, or lipstick color, or…you get the point. People love to be complimented, and commenting on something unique can get the conversation off on the right foot. After saying thanks, the other person may explain where they got their shoes from or talk about their love of a good bargain. It can go on from there.

“What show have you been watching lately?” TV is one of those topics that everyone can relate to in some form or fashion. If the show they recommend ends up being something you’ve seen, you can share your thoughts. (“I can’t believe the husband was the culprit!”) And if you haven’t caught it, ask what about the program that they liked so much.

“How do you know Jane?” A pro move is to find something you have in common, which is why asking about your new acquaintance’s relationship to the host of the party is such an easy opener. Find out their backstory (maybe they went to college together) and share yours (“We interned together.”). If you’re at a work function, ask what the person does at the company or how long they have been in the industry.

people talking

“What are you most excited to do in the next year?” This question can lead the way to some fun answers, such as “Spend my birthday in Paris!”—and open the door for your new friend to ask the same of you. Just make sure you have an answer ready.

“This room is gorgeous, isn’t it?” Commenting on your setting is a foolproof way to deflect attention from yourself. And there’s always something to talk about, like a cool piece of furniture or an unbelievable view. Just your opinions positive. This isn’t the time to dish about how tacky the host’s art might be.

“I can’t believe how cold it got!” OK, this probably sounds like the kind of thing you shouldn’t bring up (weather, really?), but there’s a reason it’s a small talk go-to. It gets the other person talking, doesn’t risk offending anyone, and requires no special knowledge.

“Are you from around here?” or “Do you live around here?” People love to talk about themselves, and this is an excellent way to hear your new friend’s story. Whether they grew up around the corner or across the country—this lets them share a little about her past (and could lead you to discover things you both have in common).