How to talk to strangers
The Guardian May 12, 2014
Stuck for a topic or worried about feigning interest? Here's how to mingle like a maestro
Don't try too hard
If you're constantly trying to say something outstandingly original, you'll probably go blank. It's OK to state the blindingly obvious – we all do it, plus your "obvious" may seem original to somebody else.
Everyone is guilty of drifting off during a conversation. Maybe you're thinking: "Wait till they hear what happened to me last week." Challenge yourself to find the one thing about that person that provokes your interest and ask them about it – it's easier to listen if you're interested.
Good conversationalists are attentive to what is going on – watching and listening to the person they're with, while also monitoring their own assumptions. This sounds like a lot to juggle, but once you start to pay attention, the art of conversation is easier to master.
Learn to accept whatever subjects you are offered during a conversation, and make something of it - even if you're not an expert. Think like a theatrical improviser, who learns to take whatever happens on stage as an "offer".
Encourage people to talk about themselves but remember that real conversation isn't one-way. Ask questions, but also talk openly and honestly about yourself, or the conversation might feel more like an interrogation.