We spend our childhoods being told to never speak to strangers but then discover as we grow up, we need to do just that, repeatedly. Some strangers are more comfortable to talk to, such as shop clerks or servers in restaurants.

Others though, are often more complicated, such as the strangers you meet in social situations. These are the people who have the potential of being your future friends, referral sources, clients or coworkers. These are the strangers who matter. To some, meeting this type of stranger can be quite intimidating.

How do you get past the initial trepidation and talk to strangers comfortably?

Throw Yourself into the Deep End

If you always have someone to fall back on, you’re never going to truly take the plunge. Go to new places alone, so you’re not tempted to stick with who you already know.

Someone once said there is safety in numbers, but when hanging out with the people you already know, you’re missing the opportunities meeting new people will bring. If you’re not quite ready to go it alone. Take a friend and agree to meet back up periodically.

Make the First Move

If you’re going to wait around hoping to be noticed, you might have a very long wait. Be bold! Start a conversation! Get up and join the fun rather than waiting to be invited.

Look for people that may be open to talking to someone new. If someone is already in a conversation, it may be hard to join in but those standing alone or looking for the next conversation would be a good fit. You’ll be able to tell just by watching the movement of the people at the event.

Learn the Give and Take of Conversation

Ask questions. Get the ball rolling by discovering new facts about the people you meet. But also, be prepared to talk about yourself (but not excessively). Good conversation should have an ebb and flow. Don’t let it get too heavy in any one direction.

Prepare some conversation starting questions in advance so you’re not worrying about what to say. Practice in front of the mirror and memorize them.

Learn How to Smile

I know, you’re worried about what everyone is thinking. You know they’ll find out you don’t belong, eventually. Everyone else in the room has started out thinking like you do right now, and some of them at the event are probably thinking the same things about themselves.

Sometimes the easiest way to defeat the inner doubter is just to smile. Your smile will not only make you feel better, it will attract a few people that will want to start a conversation with you.

Be You

There is nothing more compelling than someone who comes across as genuine.

Being authentic is a hundred times better than any role you could ever play. This means being you without pretense. If you’re nervous, it’s ok. You can even say something about it or make it into a joke. You’d be amazed at how many people can identify with these feelings.

Know When – and How – to Quit

If the conversation has died out or the interaction isn’t going well, know how to escape. An “I need” comment is a big help (as in “Excuse me, I need to use the restroom” or “I need to talk to that man over there about something, please excuse me.” Or just simply thank them for the interaction and move on. “It was a pleasure talking to you about Hawaii. Thank you for the conversation.” If you really like the person you’re talking to, get their card, or make plans to get together again before you go.

William Butler Yeats perhaps said it best.

“There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met.”

With that thought in mind, wouldn’t you say it’s time to set forth and make some new friends?

The opportunities are out there for everyone that participates.