This is the text of the speech which I used for practice. The speech I gave was a little bit different. I delivered this speech at Chatswood Early Risers Toastmasters International Speech Contest on 5th March 2013.
Do you remember the first time you went to a Toastmasters meeting? Maybe you were nervous and shy . You thought – I don’t know anyone – what will they think of me? I had similar feelings attending 21st birthday parties and weddings when the only person I knew was the guest of honour. So many strangers to talk to!
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be given the gift of conversation – to be able to start talking to other people without introduction and to have a quality conversation without feeling awkward? This is the subject of my speech – how to talk to strangers.
So what is a stranger? Quite simply, a stranger is someone you haven’t met yet. You can wait for someone else to do the introduction (which will probably never happen) or you can take the first step.
It’s easy to talk to people you already know because you have something in common. But talking to strangers pushes most of us way out of our comfort zone, with many barriers to cross – most of them self-imposed – fear of rejection, fear of having nothing in common and a fear of looking foolish by saying something stupid.
Let’s examine the barrier of thinking you have nothing in common. We all have something in common – at the very least being human and living on planet Earth. There are many situations where the location automatically provides something in common, an office party, conference, a school function or a Toastmasters meeting.
So how do you get started? It doesn’t really matter too much what you say to begin with – the important thing is to make the connection by just speaking. At the 21st party you can ask “How do you know Susie?” or “Were you at school or university together?”. At Toastmasters members can ask guests how they found out about the organisation and this club.
My first tip is to get started talking using something in common as the conversation starter.
But how do you talk to a stranger when here is less in common? What can you say without your opening sentence being threatening, or sounding like a pickup line?
A good strategy is to look for something of interest the person is wearing or carrying that you can make a comment about. It could be a hat, a sloganed t-shirt, a piece of jewellery or even a name badge. Why do you think they give out name badges at conferences? They are tools for introductions!
The focus of your opening conversation is the item, not the person, so you won’t appear threatening or imposing. If you want strangers to talk to you, then wear something that can start a conversation.
The office kitchen and lunch room is a great social hub in most workplaces. This is where I learn the names of unfamiliar faces and get to know new employees. There are about 100 people in my office from a total of 30 different countries. I am sure I could name everyone in my office as I make a point of introducing myself to unfamiliar faces.
My second tip is to get to know the names of the people you work with and organisations to which you belong.
My final suggestion in my brief survey of conversation starters is to use your sense of humour, delivered with a friendly smile. People appreciate humour that lightens their day and adds some fun.
The lifts in my office provide many opportunities for talking to strangers. The hit and miss nature of the card key swipe panel and the lightning speed of the dosing doors provides many situations for a humorous exchange. The aroma of a takeaway coffee carried by a fellow lift occupant is often a goad conversation starter the morning. A conversation in the lift is not too threatening as the journey is so short, unless of course you get stuck for thirty minutes.
My third and final tip is to use your sense of humour. Humour is important in times of stress to help people feel at ease particularly if stranded on a crowed railway platform because of City Fail!
In conclusion I encourage you to drop any fears and pretension about talking to strangers. Practice talking to someone new every day – man and woman, young and old. Who knows what great friendships are ahead of you until you start making your own introductions?
In the world of strangers, you will find new friends, new inspiration, and new business and career contacts. And for those seeking it, you could find new romance! So what are you waiting for? Talk to a stranger today.
Here is a recording of the speech:
Updated – 11th March 2013
I competed in the Area 34 Contest and wrote about the experience. Read the article.