Are you a bit awkward when talking with new people? Do you find yourself the person at the party checking out the bookshelf? Maybe you’re great in certain contexts but not in others. I have a few ideas on opening up conversations that will flow fairly well, and will make you come off as a great person to talk with at a party.

Passion Rules

My number one trick for talking with people I don’t know is that I steer the conversation as fast as I can away from weather, sports, local TV news, and other topics. I ask people questions like, “So, when you’re not attending graduation ceremonies, what do you do that sparks your passion?”

Most people balk at the direct frontal assault of that question. For some reason, it’s just not done that way. People never think to ask someone straight out what really brings them joy in their lives. But you know what? When you take a risk on this early steering attempt and it pays off, the conversations are far richer.

The other person might say, “Oh, I don’t know. I really like fly fishing. That’s not really techie or anything.”

They’re immediately trying to discount what they’re talking about as a defensive protective maneuver. They don’t want you saying back, “Oh, fly fishing is stupid.” So, when given a response like this, try going back with, “Really? I don’t know anything about fly fishing. What separates a newbie from someone who’s been at it a while?”

This is an open-ended question that will get the person talking. Soon enough, you’re nodding along, adding quick filler comments like, “And you tie these yourself?” The other person feels their spark being fanned, and they react. They talk more and more about what intrigues them.

Turnabout

Of course, this means that the person will turn the question around on you at some point, unless they’re so needy or thoughtless that you’ve accidentally sunk your entire night talking about this one thing. Be ready with a response. Tell them about something you’re into. It doesn’t matter what. But be ready to say more than, “I’m into remote control cars.” They will follow your lead and will probably try to ask probing questions.

You do have passions, right? Aren’t they more fun to discuss than whether or not it’ll rain?

Shy People

The #1 comment I get when talking about things like this is, “Easy for you to say, but I’m really shy.” I will freely admit, being shy is definitely tricky when faced with social situations. Know what to do? Find other shy people and try this out with them or get into the general orbit of really extraverted people, because they’ll talk your head off and you can just nod politely and laugh where appropriate until the conversation finds a quiet moment for you.

Be Prepared for New Roads

I love to learn about people’s passions, because it almost always translates back into energy that I’ll use in pursuing my passions. I might not care a lick about fly fishing, but after an hour of talking with someone who thinks it’s the greatest gift to humankind since Pokemon, I will leave that conversation energized and ready to go put more passion into the things that matter to me.

Learning about people’s passions also opens opportunities for you. I was speaking with a guy about technology at a party where he and I were probably the only folks at the gathering that knew anything about tech. We talked about his company and their new broadband technologies for cable. We talked about my experiences with broadband, as well as my thoughts on where the sweet spot for cable companies was. After all was said and done, he asked for my resume. Just in case.

It’s amazing what conversations about passion can do for you. I encourage you to give this a shot at the next gathering you find yourself attending where you don’t know everyone in the room. Heck, try it out on your extended family. I bet you’d find the answers there to be exciting as well.

–Chris Brogan is passionate about new media and content networks at the GrasshopperFactory. Today, he’s passionate about people who can’t see past their job roles at [chrisbrogan.com]. And every day, he’s passionate about the great comments and responses from the loyal readers and wonderful braintrust that follow Lifehack.org

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