You know the type—the average-looking guy who can meet someone new while out buying light bulbs, or the rather plain Jane who comes home from a dental appointment with the name and number of a potential suitor. We set out to discover just what makes these people so adept at meeting others—so you can try their best tips.
Trick #1: Smile and wave
Don’t be afraid to use gestures that say, “I’d like to chat with you”—whether that means a smile, a nod, a wave or just eyebrows raised in expectation. Laura Lewis, 27, from River Falls, WI, recently spent much of her lunch hour in a long line at a bank. But instead of getting annoyed, she got a number from the cute guy standing behind her. “We were checking each other out the whole time we stood there,” she explains, “and just as I finished at the teller, I gave him a big, big smile. He gave me a cute little ‘hi there’ wave, so I busied myself rearranging my wallet until he was free to talk.”
How to practice it: Even though it may seem bold, smiling at strangers is the top way to let them know it’s safe to break through. Try it on everyone and anyone: The beleaguered workers at the post office, a harried mother in front of you at the checkout aisle, or even the toddler sitting in her cart. As you get used to being a smiler, you’ll start doing it naturally—including at the people you most want to meet.
Trick #2: Be the one to talk first…
Anyone can talk back to someone, but real people-meeters know the trick is starting a chat out of the blue. Susan RoAne, author of How to Create Your Own Luck and What Do I Say Next, says the secret lies in seeing the world around you as full of opportunities to talk, versus waiting to be spoken to.
How to do it: In order to break the ice with people you want to date, it helps to start with people you’d normally never speak to—say, the married guy in another department at work or a grandma at the bus stop. Since you’re not worried about whether they’ll shoot you down, you can truly be yourself and get used to talking to perfect strangers. “You have to get comfortable doing it, or you’ll hesitate when you see someone in particular who you want to talk to,” says RoAne. “If you have to think about what to say or feel self-conscious, you’ll hesitate, and the moment will be gone,” she says.
Trick #3: Work your chit-chat charm
OK, what the heck should you talk about? The experts advise finding something that you two share—that could easily be something in your environment, like the weather or the huge new billboard that went up across the street. Or it could be something in the world around you, like a big verdict that was announced on the news earlier in the day or the fact that the next day is officially the longest day of the year.
How to practice it: Work on having an opinion or asking for the other person’s view of things, rather than just throwing a remark out there. So if you’re in the cereal aisle, don’t mutter to yourself, “Wow, expensive...” Turn to the object of your affection and say, “Wow, can you believe it? Almost six dollars for this! Is it just this brand or are they all so pricey?” Similarly, if you’re in line for lunch and the folks behind the deli counter are taking their time, don’t just say, “Gee, this line is moving so slowly.” Instead, try to get some playful banter going by saying, “I’ll bet you a little bag of chips that we’re not out of here by 1 P.M.” The idea is, open the door to a chat rather than just toss off a remark.
Trick #4: Then stop talking…
Bill Keith, 29, from Hudson, OH, has a knack for charming everyone around him. He says his secret is knowing when to stop yapping and start listening. “People aren’t used to having other people really listen to them, so that’s how I win a lot of people over,” he says. So whether he’s remarking about an old Bobby Brown song that just came on the supermarket muzak (which is how he met his best friend) or asking someone at Starbucks which shaker has cocoa and which has cinnamon and does it really make a difference, he opens the door to a chat and then shuts his mouth. The new acquaintance walks away feeling connected to you since you lavished on that personal attention.
How to practice it: Next time you start a conversation, make an effort to ask the person you’re chatting with at least three questions before making another observation of your own. That will get you in the groove of letting the other person open up to you... and make them feel appreciated. And when they feel appreciated, chances are, they’ll want to continue that conversation.
Freelance writer Laura Gilbert has contributed to Cosmopolitan, Maxim, and The Modern Humorist. She admits that she meets most of her friends — and too many of her dates — at work.