Tips for Talking to Strangers

I struggled with what to call the post. It’s not like a “stranger danger!” kind of thing. But more like… how to make conversation with people you don’t know. But that was a mouthful.
Most people who know me would say that there’s no way that I’m shy, but the truth is… I am so shy around people I don’t know. I can’t tell you how awkward I feel on the inside and how I used to avoid any and all situations involving meeting new people. I had a best friend who did all the friend-making for me growing up (we were basically a package deal). It was so bad that I actually used to fear ordering dinner at a restaurant with a waiter. (Truth be told, I actually still get nervous talking to waiters!)
While I thought I would be fine never having to meet strangers for the rest of my life, I (obviously) had to get over it. I’ve learned a lot about talking to people I don’t know and put it to good use a handful of times. College, in particular, was a great place for me to flex that muscle and build up the personal tools to handle and the situations. But it was blogging that actually made a huge difference. I have to say that I do get a little nervous right before meeting someone, it’s one of my favorite parts about blogging: meeting people! It’s not an easy thing to do to overcome that stranger-anxiety, but it’s something I think even the most introverted should work on.
Whether you’re going out on a date, sitting down with an interviewer, or simply meeting a new potential friend, you can tailor these tips to what you need.
I don’t think there’s one magic pill or solution, but here are the things that work for me:
ONE // Pump yourself up
Shake off that anxiety (as best you can) and get rid of the adrenaline. Adrenaline can be good, but we all know that too much can cause some not-so-great symptoms. If I’m meeting someone new (like a blog reader or a social media manager of a brand) in the city, I walk as much as I can before that. I’ll either walk the whole way or get off the subway a stop or two early. While on my way no matter if I’m walking or not, I always repeat some positive affirmations over in my head. A lot of my fear comes from worrying about saying the wrong thing or embarrassing myself or mispronouncing words, so I focus on saying positive things in my head about those specific fears. Music can help too, but I find myself getting distracted too much instead of simply preparing!
TWO // Plan three things you can for sure talk about
Worried you won’t have something to talk about? My mom says I’m like a duck… seemingly calm on the surface, but underneath I’m going crazy. I always think there are going to breaks in the conversation and that I’ll be the most awkward. Oy. I’ve never actually had a conversation turn weirdly awkward, but I like having “back pocket” and “safe” conversation points ready to go. They can be as simple as something funny Teddy recently did or a project that I recently wrapped up. In addition to the three things on your end, also prepare three questions to ask the person. Conversation points and conversation starters 100% ready to go!
(Also, just a note… When I first started doing this, I thought conversations would feel scripted… but I hardly ever have to resort to only those points and questions. I just feel more confident and prepared going in and then loosen up!)
THREE // Squeeze your toes
Similar to the first point, the adrenaline can cause shaking/sweating/stuttering during a conversation. I struggle with squeezing my hands awkwardly when I’m nervous or, even worse, digging my nails in my legs. Blah! A mentor taught me a trick that she uses when giving speeches and it works wonders in high-anxiety conversations… Squeeze your toes. So weird, but I swear it works. All the tension leaves the rest of your body and the other person will have no idea. Sneaky, sneaky.
FOUR // Laugh it off
When in doubt, admit that you’re a bit flustered and laugh it off. I definitely wouldn’t start with this, but if you do find yourself stumbling on your words or shaking a bit, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with admitting it. Even better, admitting it and then laughing it off. Surprisingly, I’ve found that when this happens, the other person can really relate and may in fact be just as nervous!
FIVE // Don’t back out
Do. Not. Back. Out. How many times do I want to fire off the email canceling or rescheduling into the extremely distant future? Every time. (Seriously.) But I force myself to go and I’m 99% of the time extremely happy that I went. A lot of times my fears and anxiety can overshadow everything that can possibly be gained at the end of the day. Because I always want to back out, I’ve made it a personal rule to not… unless there’s a legitimate reason, and being afraid is NOT legitimate!
If you told me six years ago that I would have 10 to 15 meetings with strangers a week or host events to meet people (voluntarily), I would have doubled over laughing. It’s absolutely mind-blowing to me. There are tons of other factors that can come into place (a “power outfit,” for example, can give you an extra boost of confidence!), but these are my favorite five tips. I hope they can help a fellow introvert out!
Do you get nervous talking to new people? What tips do you utilize?

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Lauren Rose

Great tips Carly! My favorite is the second one. If you have things in mind to talk about, you don't have to worry about awkward silence!

Alexandra Aimee

These are great tips. I also always want to back out– and I have no idea why, because I honestly love meeting and talking to people! I have no idea where this impulse comes from, but I think *most* people have it.

— Alex at Cashmere Kangaroo


I'm socially incapable, so thank you so much for these tips! (that's probably why I like blogging so much — virtual practice haha) I really need this 🙂 I'm always excited to meet new people, but I never know what to say and end up backing out 😛 I'll try my best not to do that so often! -Audrey | Brunch at Audrey's


Thats some good tips! I have social anxiety but I love to meet new people, and I use the tip number 2. I think of things to say and ask about (sometimes I think too much about it though..) and I try to stay calm. I usually talk very low, and when I get nervous I speak faster and stutters a little, so I try to think about that too. If I say something wrong or "crazy" (I am probably the only one who thinks it sounds wrong or crazy), its not the end of the world.


Also squeezing your toes stops you from blushing and going red, which is a massive problem I have. If I ever have to speak in public you can guarantee my toes are wiggling away in my ballet pumps!

Brittany Lee

I wish you had posted this about 4 years ago! The biggest help I've had with taking to "strangers" has been basically being forced into the situation through recruitment with my sorority.
My first time through the sister side of recruitment, I was a nervous wreck and had no idea what to do. My "planned" topics flew out of my head as soon as a new person was in front of me. It was such an awful situation and I wish I had been more prepared. (I even told a girl, "Sorry I'm so awkward, bye!" and basically ran away)
But every year I've gotten better at it, because I realize that it's something i MUST do (recruitment AND talking to strangers)
And it's actually helped me with situations you've mentioned, like job interviews. I really don't know what I would have done if I had not just plunged in and tried. It was rough at first, but I think I've got the hang of it (…for the most part!)


I definitely can be awkward in the first bit of time I'm getting to know someone, but after about 20 minutes I tend to open up. I think it's all about having self confidence and being outgoing and being yourself. These are great tips! I always get really nervous calling someone on the phone for some reason, but then I always think to myself that they can't even see me so I have no reason at all to be nervous! Great post Carly!

XO, Kate //

3 Peanuts

Good tips. I speak in front of people for a living and never really get too nervous but I loathe small talk and cocktail party talk. I have found that just being a really good listener is key. Most people spend too much time trying to fill the air with stuff about themselves. People always gravitate to a good listener and that can be easy to do. Ask the other person about themselves. It works every time.


Great tips! I used to be a lot more nervous talking to people I don't know, but over time it has just gone away. I think that age and maturity as well as practice has a lot to do with it- the more you put yourself out there and the more experience you have talking to people you've just met, the more you relax about it. After one or two awkward conversations or conversations in which you feel like you should have said something different, you begin to realize that that's the absolute worst that could happen and it's not that bad!
I think your tips are great for people who are still pushing themselves to practice! The more you do it, the easier it gets so you have to get out there!

Jenn Cramer

This is me in a nutshell! I always feel so awkward talking to new people if there is a lot of new people and not many people I know well. I always feel bad for people because they don't really know what I'm like until they know me completely, it that makes sense.


If you focus on the other person and not on yourself and your anxiety try to make them comfortable and you make yourself comfortable too.


If you focus on the other person and not on yourself and your anxiety try to make them comfortable and you make yourself comfortable too.


I love these tips! I'm not necessarily a super shy person, per se, but I do get nervous meeting people in social settings. For some reason, one-on-one meetings are no biggie, but if I'm joining in a group or meandering at an event, I can seem very quiet. You're right though- blogging sure does bring out the extrovert! It's something I absolutely love about blogging, but also something I'm working on.

– Lindsey @ Market Me Trendy

Amanda Suazo

Ah, this is me all over. I always try to fake it 'til I make it on the confidence front (they'll never know, right?), and visualize the interaction going really well. If I play it out in my head as a success, chances are it will go smoothly! Thanks for the post!


These are great tips. Networking can be nerve wracking. I've found the key is to act like you own it, doing so helps keep the nerves to a minimum.


I'm never comfortable with strangers because I simply don't know what to say or what is appropriate to be discussed, but I know there's so much to learn from there and so much to share. I think to not chicken out is surely the most important, I always get cold feet even after I've thought of what to do and after that I just spend my time regretting. Thank you, for the great tips!

Anna P

I'm not a college student anymore, in fact I am now 28 and doing my medical residency, but I just wanted to say that I really enjoy reading your blog. Its a nice mix of style, fun things in New York with some good reading tips mixed in. I like the wardrobe posts as it helps pull together classic outfits for more conservative work environments.

Sydney Eliff

Great post! The hardest part for me is breaking the ice! Those awkward moments come to me when I start thinking about how well the conversation is flowing…I guess I jinx myself!


Amber Naomi

Amazing tips! so helpful. I can relate to this ¨post, I get so nervous when meeting people. I just cant keep eye contact. but over the years it has getting better and better every day. since I´m in college I don´t feel so awkward anymore. I always think `they don´t know who you are, just be spontaneous`

Abbey R.

I love this. I am soooo shy meeting new people and the ones who actually do know me, would never guess! Great tips 🙂


Hi Carly:)
Thank you so much for your tips!!! These are the exact tips I've needed. Especially the last one "Don't back out" is for me! I always feel i wanna cancel the schedule before going out….but with your tip, No More:))