If your mom was ever like mine and said “don’t talk to strangers”, then maybe the following steps are not going to settle well with our mothers. Because today, I want to help you talk to strangers–I’ll show you how to approach anyone about anything.

It’s kinda funny when you think about it, that I am about to teach you how to talk to strangers, when technically you and I are strangers. But as you will see, I am fascinated by this topic.

We are taught at a very young age to not talk to strangers, and then all of a sudden we grow up and have to talk to strangers all day long. We befriend them. Work with them. Strangers might even interview us for a job. We take classes with them. We make presentations for strangers in business meetings. We are even supposed to network with strangers at networking events. The list goes on and on..

Even though you were not taught this skill at a young age, I want to teach you how you can bond quickly and effectively with new people.

Step #1: The Warm-up

Before we get into what to say to a stranger, I want to talk about:

  • Your warm-up
  • Your approach
  • And what happens before the interaction

We’ll think of this as stranger foreplay. To avoid a cold interaction, you want to have a warm approach. The most important thing you want to do when you are approaching a stranger for the first time is to send off “Friend Signals”. When we first meet someone, our brain has to quickly decide–is this person a friend or foe? To distinguish between the two, here are a few examples to watch out for:

Foe Signals:

  • Crossed arms
  • Lack of eye contact 
  • Hidden hands

Friend Signals:

  • Open body language; open torso with nothing blocking you
  • Direct eye contact upon approach
  • Visible hands ready for the handshake

So the next time you are about to meet someone new, make sure you approach them with friend signals. You will also earn bonus points if you smile at them.

Step #2: The Opener

Okay, so now that you have approached with friendly, warm nonverbal signals, what do you say to a stranger? Pick-ups and opening lines tend to make people very nervous, but don’t worry, the opening line is not as important as you might think. One of the best and effective pick-up lines is also the simplist. Are you ready for it?

The best opening line is… ‘Hey, how are you?’ Simple right? This opening line is easy and effective. So don’t drive yourself crazy coming up with something clever or witty. Just say, ‘Hey, how are you?’ This has worked for me 100% of the time.

Step #3: The Shake

After or during your opening line, give out your hand for a nice solid handshake. But what if you are not a shaker? Too bad, I want you to step up and shake the other person’s hand anyways. Why? Because handshakes are so important. The moment your skin touches someone else’s skin, you release chemicals that help you bond. If you need to perfect the art of the perfect handshake, check out our video here.

Some good rules of thumb to keep in mind for your next handshake: keep your hands dry and keep your handshake firm.

Step #4: The Intro

Now it’s time to introduce yourself. After you open with ‘Hey, how are you?’, you want to start building rapport. The way to do this is to start with who you are and how you have arrived. And if you can, bounce it back to them. For example, I could say, ‘Hey, I’m Vanessa. This is my first time at this conference, how about you?’ Then they would respond, and guess what? You are now in a conversation and are no longer strangers.

My final tip for you is to use food and drink as an opener if you can. Sitting at the bar is the easiest way to make conversation with the person next to you. Siding up to the buffet line to chit-chat is super simple. We all eat and drink, so it’s an easy way in.

Here’s some advice your momma never gave you: Go out and talk to some strangers.

About Vanessa Van Edwards

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Lead Investigator, Science of People

I'm the author of the national bestselling book Captivate, creator of People School, and behavioral investigator.

I’ve always wanted to know how people work, and that’s what Science of People is about. What drives our behavior? Why do people act the way they do? And most importantly, can you predict and change behavior to be more successful? I think the answer is yes. More about Vanessa.

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