7 Ways to start the conversation with any stranger

Hello, I’m going to start with a question. Do you remember the first conversation that you ever had with that person? You know conversations are links. Let’s imagine every conversation to be a tiny metal link. And every time you talk to a stranger, a metal link is formed. And every conversation that you have after that moment, the link gets stronger and stronger. And every day each one of us meets so many strangers: the grocery guy, the cab guy maybe the receptionist at a new office you went to. And with every conversation we build new links.

        Until finally at the end, we’ve created a kind of massive World Wide Web of conversation. World Wide Web. It’s a catchy word. I think I’ve heard that somewhere. That’s it, right? A conversation. It’s a fascinating thing. A conversation is an adventure. A conversation gives you a whole new perspective. A conversation opens a door. Conversations can make war and conversations can make peace. And conversations define who we are as a human race. Think about this. Every single person in your life was once a stranger to you. And you knew nothing about them until you had that first conversation. So I’m here today to tell you to talk to strangers, to have a conversation. And I’m here to tell you how. Seven ways that you can make a conversation with almost anyone.

         Suppose I’m a radio presenter and I love talking to people. I do. I love it. And I’m so glad that I do it for a living. Here’s what my day is like. Every single morning, I go into an empty room, I put on a mic, and I have a conversation with 1.6 million people … that I can’t see. You know what the hardest part is, though? It’s time. In a four-hour show, I get 20 minutes. That’s all the talk there is. And in 20 minutes I have to convince you that I am your best friend. How do I do that? How do I establish a connection? I have 20 minutes to inform you, to excite you, to engage with you but most importantly, 20 out of the 20 times that I switch on that mic, I have to leave a smile on your face.

        Except, I can’t see you, I know nothing about you, and I have no way of gauging your reactions. How do you do it? How do you talk to a stranger? Well, my nine years in radio have taught me these simple little tricks. Strangers, they are everywhere. And we’ve always been told, “Don’t talk to strangers!”But I beg to differ. Every stranger comes with an opportunity, an opportunity to learn something new, an opportunity to have an experience you’ve never had or hear a story that you’ve never heard before. And you’ve had that moment, right? You’re in the room with someone you don’t know, and you look across the room, you see a stranger, and you think, “I want to talk to this person.”And you can almost hear the first word but it just won’t come out, it kind of gets stuck about here, it kind of goes up and down and you don’t know –

       You know what? Here’s my advice: just say it. What’s the worst that can happen? They want to talk to you. Well, they’re not talking to you now. The first word floodgates. I truly believe that the first word acts as a floodgate. You know, once you said the first word everything else just flows. So keep it simple. A “Hi,” a “Hey,”  “Hello.”And do what every good bowler does. Just gather the enthusiasm, the positivity, the energy, put on a big smile and say, “Hi!”I know. There’s going to be that strange moment right now. Turn to someone sitting next to you, stick your hand out and say hello. Go on. (Laughter) I love the awkward laughter. “Why is she making us do this?”The first word floodgates. You know, here’s a challenge we face every day. Time. We have 90 seconds on radio, and we have to make that conversation with a stranger memorable. So how do you do it? What’s the biggest challenge? Honestly, if we get stuck in the rut of: “Hi!” “Hey!””How are you?” “I’m fine.””What’s going on?” “Nothing much.””Same old.”

      So tell me what’s new?”There you go, 45 seconds down, wasted. Right? So, here’s my advice: skip the small talk and ask a really personal question. And don’t be afraid. Trust me. You will be surprised how much people are willing to share if you just ask. So ask any kind of personal question. Maybe: Interesting name. How did your parents think of it? Is there a story behind it? Or … How long have you lived in this city? And do you remember the first day you landed here? Answers to those questions are always something unique, always something personal.

        My favorite one to try is: Where do you come from? And where does your family live? Unfailingly, every single time I sit in a cab, I do this. I ask that question. Where do you come from? And where does your family live? Let me tell you a little story. I was coming home one night … I get into this taxi, open the door, sit down and I say, “Where are you from? Where does your family live?”And the 60-year-old Pakistani cab-driver goes on to tell me all about his life in Peshawar. We talked about politics, we talked about music, family, wife, his farm. And as I’m getting out of the taxi.

Step three. Find the “me too”s. Have you ever met someone who starts a conversation like they’re starting a debate? “I am from Delhi. Nothing kills a conversation like a negative. When you meet someone for the first time make an effort to find the one thing that you and that other person might have in common.

       When you start at that point and then move outward from there, you will find that all of a sudden the conversation becomes a lot easier. And that’s because both of you suddenly are on the same side of something. And that’s a really powerful feeling. Now, what could you possibly have in common with a stranger you ask? Could be anything, right? You’re both in the same place at the same time, maybe you’re from the same country, maybe you both like the winter or you’re longing for it to rain. I don’t know, you’d find something.

      When you find a “me too,”you automatically have a kind of buy-in from the other person. Trust me, that’s helpful. Pay a unique compliment. I read somewhere that people will forget what you do, and they’ll forget what you say, but they will never forget how you made them feel. So be generous. And go out and give someone a nice full compliment. So, I have this belief about a “compliment immunity meter”, and it comes from this experience I had when I met this gorgeous supermodel. And I look at her and I say, “Wow! You are beautiful!”And there is no reaction on her face. And I think to myself, “How?”That’s when I realized, she is immune to the word “beautiful.”She’s probably heard it a hundred thousand times today. And if she’s on social media, she’s heard it a million times today. There are some words that each of us have developed an immunity to. It could be “nice,” it could be “awesome,”it could be “cool” …

        Stay away from these. Try and construct a compliment that’s unique and genuine, and you don’t have to lie. Really. When you look at someone and say, “I love how when you smile, it’s like your nose smiles, and then your eyes smile, and your ears smile, even your forehead smiles and suddenly, the whole person is just smiling.”You see, I hope that’s a compliment you’re not going to forget for a while. Pay a unique and genuine compliment. Ask for an opinion. All of us have opinions; trust me. And we all want them to be heard and everybody wants validation.

      So go on and ask for an opinion, and that’s when you open up a two-way street. That is when the real communication begins, and you will be surprised how much you can pick up about a person just by asking their opinion on something pretty generic. Here’s a mistake that some people make. They ask your opinion about something really difficult. It feels almost intimidating. Somewhere in a room, full of very well-informed people, and someone was to come up to me and say, “So what do you think about the way the oil prices have affected the real estate market in Dubai?”I feel a bit cornered. I feel like I might fail, and this is an examination, and that’s the lesson. Nobody needs to fail at a first-time conversation. Just ask something simple. Keep it generic. How do you like your coffee? When did you watch your last movie? What did you think of it? And when somebody gives you their opinion: really listen. Don’t listen to reply. Listen to listen.

       There’s a difference. And that brings me to my next point. Be present. I know you’ve been through this. I know I have. You’re pouring your heart out to someone, and they are like this, “Yeah, yeah, go on, keep talking. I can multitask! What’s with Wi-Fi?”(Laughter) You know, when someone’s trying to communicate with you, the least you can do is really be in that conversation. Just be wholeheartedly present, just be there. And – oh! – my favorite part: make eye contact. Trust me, eye contact is where all the magic happens. You can feel the conversation. And trust me, when you are looking at someone in the eye, nine out of ten times, they will not dare look away Now, if only I could look into the eyes of 1.6 million people, I would not have to worry about you guys tuning out during the ad breaks. That brings me to this, my favorite point because I think it’s got a catchy name. Name, place, animal, thing. You remember that game? Remember the little details about a person. Remember their name. It’s so important.

        It’s awful when you meet someone for 18th time, and you say, “You must be Paul, no Peter. Something with the P and it ends with …”It’s terrible. Remember someone’s name and say it back to them. You have no idea how important you’re making them feel, and that’s not the only detail. Remember all the other details as well. The places they like to go to, the places they’ve been to, the places they want to go to, their pet’s names. How their pet’s been feeling lately? The things they like. Remember their children’s names, that’s such a winner. Remember their wife’s names, their girlfriend’s names. Just don’t mix up the last two because that could be disastrous. Remember these little things about people and repeat it back to them, ask be genuinely interested, and automatically you kind of become an investor in their well-being, so they’ll feel responsible to you to keep that conversation going. There we go.

      Seven amazing ways that you can make conversation with anyone, and seven reasons why you should use the break that’s going to come up to talk to a stranger that you don’t know. I’m going to end with this analogy. A conversation is like reading a book. You can turn to any page you want. You can flip to your favorite chapter. You can read as long as you want, and you can read what you want, and every person, trust me, is a really good book. And it saddens me so much that entire human lives are being boiled down to 140 characters and catchy headlines.       

         Because that’s not what we are. We are not abridged versions. We are entire human stories. We deserve more from each other. So what are you going to do in this big world we call the library? Are you going to walk around, look at the hard bound copies and read the titles? Or are you going to actually reach for a book, open a page and start reading a story? You decide. Thank you.

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