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How To Start A Conversation (including "canned lines" and tactics)


Neville

conference conversation starters

**If you're at an event right now and need some opening lines, here's some quick lines for you to use immediately:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A conversation is like copywriting, but in real-time and in-person.

FOR EXAMPLE: Here's a classic copywriting format in print:

image headline text example

This format has 3 main parts:

  • The Image.

  • The Headline.
  • The Text.

Now imagine this same principle but in a real-life conversation:

image-headline-text-in-person

It's kind of the same thing!

  • The Image = The way you look.
  • The Headline = What you first say.
  • The Text = What you say next.

Back in college I would frequently crash fancy-ass parties in order to meet rich people (seriously, this was my way of networking).

I WAS NOT great at schmoozing, but crashing a private party of 200 people who all know each other puts a tremendous amount of pressure on you to start making friends immediately!

From these experiences I learned under pressure how to "work" a room and make it look like you belong.

In fact, going alone was far better for me, because I didn't have a friendly "crutch" to fall back on.  I either made friends quickly, or risk being "Dude Standing Alone In The Corner Pretending To Talk On His Phone."

From being FORCED to quickly mingle with a crowd of people I didn't know, I learned it was helpful to have some canned lines like the above ones memorized. I also noticed when I made a lot of new friends at a party/conference, I had far more fun, and got far more out of it!

Being able to strike up a conversation on command was a real asset.

 

 

Why learn to start a conversation:

If you get all dressed up, travel, buy tickets, and go to something....why not invest a little time in striking up conversations?

All the stuff you do leading up to a conference or event is almost completely useless compared to actually meeting new people at the event.

Here's a graph showing how that very-last-extra-mile makes all the difference:

 

usefulness of a conference

See how all of the other activities are almost completely useless except for meeting new people??

  • Buying tickets = Useless. 

  • Getting ready = Useless.
  • Commuting to the event = Useless.
  • Attending Sessions = Pretty Useful.
  • Meeting New People = Super Useful.

Attending a few of sessions can be helpful, but realistically nowadays you can probably see better interviews on YouTube for free.

Therefore the value of an event is in the other attendees.

This means if you go to a conference and don't speak to anyone, you've effectively wasted 90% of the benefit you get from going to the conference!

THIS my friend, is why being able to speak to people at events is the real value.

 

 

 

Here's some other useful tips to help you "make the jump" into starting a conversation:

 

TIP 1: People enjoy being talked to at an event:

Imagine you are standing alone at a conference by yourself. Now someone just randomly walks up and says, "Hey! I'm Jason, how you liking the conference so far?"

Would you be repulsed by them and go "GTF AWAY FROM ME YOU CREEP!!!!"

.....no, you would probably speak with them, and actually be glad they started talking with you!

This is helpful to remember if you're feeling shy about approaching someone to say hello.

 

 

TIP 2: You don't have to "be clever"

"Trying to be clever" is the enemy of spontaneously talking to someone.  If you TRY to be clever, you might psych yourself out and not take action.

There was this guy we knew who would talk to ANY girl in ANY situation.  People would frequently ask him, "OMG dude.....what did you say to her???"

His answer:

"Hey, I'm Jason" ::smile:  ::shake hands::

That was it.

It wasn't clever.

It wasn't cutesy.

It wasn't intelligent.

It wasn't thought-provoking.

But it worked.

 

 

Tips On "Working A Room" if you know ZERO people:

Walking in to a room where you know zero people is quite intimidating, I've been there.  But if you use some of these simple tactics within 20 minutes you'll know 5 - 10 "new friends" you can hang with!

 

TIP #1.) Find The Loner:

Difficulty Level: Super easy.

Find someone else who is just standing or walking around alone and say, "Hey, I'm Neville" ::shake hands::

BAM....you're in a conversation! It really is that easy.

This is low-hanging fruit, and great for people who are timid at first.

The person standing alone was probably was already feeling a little awkward standing by themselves, and probably welcomes the company!

If it's someone who is the same-sex as you, it makes it even easier.  This is the lowest barrier to entry way of making a quick friend at a conference.

If you're feeling lonely and lost a conference or event, immediately walk up to another person by themselves and just introduce yourself like that.  You'd be surprised how easily you can make a new friend this way.

 

 

TIP #2.) Make a 5-person "hello" goal:

Difficulty: Medium.

Make it your goal to say hello to at least 5 people.  That's it.

If you're feeling shy and thinking of leaving, just psych yourself up enough to introduce yourself to 5 new people.

If you're feeling unsure about yourself, just say this to yourself:

"If I introduce myself to 5 people, I'm allowed to leave this conference feeling accomplished."

By the time you meet 5 new people, I'd say there's a 95% you won't be feeling as lonely, and will feel confident enough to stick around.

 

 

TIP #3.) Join someone at a table:

Difficulty: Medium.

I've noticed if it's time to eat lunch or dinner and you don't see anyone you know, it's awkward as hell to find a table!!!  I'll frequently use this line to join a table or one person at a table:

"Mind if I join you?"

I then sit down and say, "Hey I'm Neville, nice to meet you!"  Almost immediately this tactic will get you a new pal to sit next to.  Then what happens is more people will join your table (make sure to introduce yourself and remember the names of tall these people), and within a few minutes you've got a little "crew" going!

Of course a conversation will start at the table, and you'll quickly see which people you "jive" with.  Joining a table is a great way to start building a group of conference friends.

 

TIP #4.) Talk to a speaker BEFORE they speak:

Difficulty: Easy.

I once went to SXSW to see Richard Garriott speak (he's a famous entrepreneur and the first member of the public to buy a $20,000,000 ride to the International Space Station).

The room was filling up fast so I got to the talk 20 minutes early.

Richard Garriott was standing near the stage, mic-ed up, and ready to talk, but just waiting there by himself. The room was half-full and filling up more, and everyone was just kind of quiet and he seemed a little awkward just standing up there alone.

So I just walked up to him and said, "Hey Richard, super excited to hear you speak, it's awesome you're doing this!"  He was actually really happy to have someone to speak with, and we had this nice conversation.  We took some pictures together and then he started his speech.

He was crazily accessible in this brief moment in time. However after his talk was done, he was SWAMPED with a crowd of people around him!

Just 30 minutes before, the poor guy was standing by himself wishing someone would talk to him, and 30 minutes later he was swamped with people all trying to talk and take pictures.

From that day forward I would always go talk with a speaker BEFORE they talked.  That's where you can get some quality time in.

Pro-tip: Offer the speaker something like, "Well hey, best of luck on the speech, and if you need something during the talk like water or handout some papers or whatever, lemme know and I'll take care of it!"  They usually very much appreciate this, and will often utilize you for something.

Simply being useful by grabbing them some waters and a drink can go a long way.

 

 

TIP #5.) Remember Everyone's Name:

Difficulty: Medium.

Yeah yeah yeah...."you suck at remembering names."  That's because you make no effort to remember them!!

I have three methods I use to remember names when schmoozing:

  • I make up a rhyme about their name. I'll often even say, "Jason? Like Jason Borne!"  The cheesier the moniker the better!
  • I'll try to use their name 3 times in the conversation.  If you keep repeating their name it'll register in your brain better.
  • I write down their name and an attribute (EX: "Brandon, VR company, purple hair") in my phone.  I've started doing this more and more and it's incredibly helpful.  ESPECIALLY when you see the person the next day and forgotten their name.

You also never know who is who at a conference.  You might be talking to someone who knows someone cool, or IS someone cool, or could become your next business partner.  You just don't know.

 

 

TIP #6.) Never Ever Ever Ever EVER EVER Start The Conversation With "What Do You Do?"

Asking "What do you do" as your first opening question is the biggest boner-kill for a conversation.  I swear to God/Jesus/Allah/Buddah I will slap you if you start a conversation like that.

This is a common opening line for a lot of people who don't know what else to ask, but it also starts the conversation off in a very boring way that's hard to recover from.

It also kind of sounds like you're JUST asking what the person does so you can gauge if their worth talking to.  This makes it kind of a weird question to start with.

 

 

TIP #7.) It's OK to abort the conversation:

Very occasionally you will meet someone who is very standoff-ish or doesn't want to talk.  Politely exit the conversation saying, "Well it was great meeting you!"  Shake their hand and walk away.

You can also say, "I've got to run to the restroom real quick, I'll see you around!"

DO NOT GET SUCKED INTO A DEAD-ENERGY PERSON.  They will suck your energy away.

Sometimes people can be:

  • In a bad mood for whatever reason.
  • Something intense happened in their life and they need to be alone.
  • They simply don't like the conversation or the energy.
  • They are just angry at life and hate everyone.

Whatever the case, it's not your fault and it's not your concern.  If someone doesn't wanna talk, never try to force it.  The rest of the 99.8% of people in the room are probably super friendly and nice and would love to speak with you.

HOWEVER, you never want to outright say, "omg you're so boring I need to get away from you."  So below are some polite ways of exiting a conversation:

 

 

So now you're armed with tactics and lines to make new friends at a conference or event. However if you're prone to forgetting stuff like this (like I am), I've created a free printable Cheat Sheet for you:

 

How To Start A Conversation Cheat Sheet:

Here's a printable cheat sheet you can use at a conference.  Print this out and review it before/during a conference. Even if it helps you meet ONE more person, it's worth it (you never know how a single person can alter the path of your life).

Click the pic below to access the Google Doc:

  • Print the doc: File --> Print
  • Save a copy: File --> Make A Copy
  • Download as PDF: File --> Download As PDF

how to start conversation cheat sheet

 

I hope this was helpful and educational!

Sincerely,

Neville N. Medhora - Kopywriter


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