Talking to Strangers at Parties

Avoiding long awkward silences one question at a time.

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I suck at talking to strangers. I used to better at it in my dating days, and when I worked for a digital marketing agency where we were expected to attend networking events and connect with people. You see, I’m an introvert, and somewhat socially awkward. I am hyper-aware of what other people might think of me, so sometimes I just don’t know what to say for fear of sounding stupid. To cope, I generally avoid one-on-one conversations with strangers at parties. When I’m in a group, I pray that someone else does all the talking, so I can just interject little tid-bits here and there. I don’t think I am alone in this; lots of people can relate. Right?

As with most things in life, public speaking or good conversation is actually a skill that you need to get out and practice. It may seem like other people have a knack or a gift for it, but chances are, they’ve just done it more often than you.

While this isn’t actually a post on how to talk to strangers, I thought I’d think up some questions that you can try asking people to avoid those long awkward silences. Build rapport. Draw them out. Get the other person to do all the talking, and you’ll be good to go. Who knows, you might learn something new and have fun.

Here you go!

(Aside: This is actually a part-two article for an earlier post, “Conversations” so some of the questions on this list may actually seem really deep and personal. I’m not saying you should ask these kinds of questions to someone you’ve known five minutes, but depending on how you handle the conversation, it’s conceivable that you could be asking some of these questions before the party ends. 🙂 Maybe.)

The Basics

  • What’s your name?
  • How old are you?
  • Where do you live?
  • Where were you born?
  • How much time do you have to chat?
  • Rate your day on a scale from 1-10.
  • Is there anything on your mind that you’d like to talk about?
  • What made you smile today?
  • Tell us your top two things from the day.
  • What was the best thing that happened today?
  • What was your least favorite part of the day?
  • Who did you work with today?
  • Did you like your lunch?
  • What is something that challenged you?
  • What are you looking forward to tomorrow?
  • If you could change one thing about your day, what would it be?

Pop Culture & Favorites

  • What’s your favorite movie from your childhood?
  • What’s your favorite movie of all time?
  • What’s your favorite movie from the last year or two?
  • Who’s your favorite superhero?
  • Who’s your favorite celebrity or talk show host? The hottest one?
  • If you had a superpower, what would it be and why?
  • What’s was your favorite book when you were a kid?
  • What’s your favorite book of all time?
  • What books have you read recently? Did you like them? Why or why not?
  • What’s your favorite major sport?
  • What’s your favorite summer activity/sport to do?
  • What’s your favorite winter activity/sport to do?
  • What’s your favorite home-cooked meal?
  • What’s your favorite fast food restaurant?
  • What’s your drink of choice?
  • What is your favorite game at recess?
  • What is your favorite board game?

Fantasy Scenarios

  • Choose a free trip or money?
  • Win the lottery or find your perfect job?
  • Who would you want with you if you were stranded on a deserted island?
  • If you could do anything you wanted right now, what would it be?
  • If money was no object, what would you do all day?
  • What does your perfect day look like?
  • If you were to create a piece of art, what would the subject be?
  • If you could go back in time, what year would you travel to?
  • If a genie granted you 3 wishes right now, what would you wish for?

Traveling

  • Would you rather crash with friends or stay at a hotel?
  • Where in the world have you been?
  • Where do you most want to travel, but have never been?
  • Travel by plane, train, boat or automobile?
  • Camp in an RV or stay in a tent?
  • Swim in a pool or the ocean?
  • Travel by sailboat or cruise ship?
  • What is your idea of a perfect vacation?

Personality Traits

  • Do you like to get dressed up and go out?
  • Have a night out or evening in?
  • Watch TV or read a book?
  • What’s an ideal weekend for you?
  • Use Facebook or Twitter?
  • Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert?
  • How would your friends describe you?
  • What’s the one thing you would like to change about yourself?
  • What makes you feel accomplished?
  • If you are in a bad mood, do you prefer to be left alone or have someone to cheer you up?
  • Do you judge a book by its cover?
  • Are you confrontational?
  • Did you ever write a journal?
  • What are you most thankful for?
  • When did someone say “thank you” to you? Why?
  • Do you believe in second chances?
  • What’s the one thing that people always misunderstand about you?
  • What’s on your bucket list this year?
  • What do you think about when you’re by yourself?
  • What makes you feel happy?
  • What makes you feel proud?
  • What makes you feel loved?
  • Can you tell me an example of kindness you saw/showed?
  • Was there an example of unkindness? How did you respond?
  • Did anyone do anything silly to make you laugh today?
  • What kinds of things make you laugh?
  • What did you do that was creative today?
  • What’s your favorite way to help people?

Relationships, Dating & Family

  • What is a relationship deal breaker for you?
  • Are you more into looks or brains?
  • Would you ever take back someone who cheated?
  • How do you feel about sharing your password with your partner?
  • When do you think a person is ready for marriage?
  • What kind of parent do you think you will be?
  • What would you do if your parents didn’t like your partner?
  • Who is that one person you can talk to about just anything?
  • Do you usually stay friends with your exes?
  • Have you ever lost someone close to you?
  • What do you think of best friends of the opposite sex?
  • When was the last time you broke someone’s heart?
  • Would you relocate for love?
  • What did your past relationship teach you?
  • What are your thoughts on online dating or tinder?
  • DEEP: When was the last time you say someone cry? Why?
  • DEEP: What is an emotion?
  • DEEP: Is love just a feeling?
  • DEEP: How is love different from passion or sexual desire?
  • DEEP: Are emotions irrational?

Reminiscing

  • What is your favorite memory?
  • What has been your biggest challenge?
  • What is your biggest success up until now?
  • What one thing would you change if you had to do it over?
  • Which parent are you closer to and why?
  • What was the best phase in your life?
  • What was the worst phase in your life?
  • Is what you’re doing now what you always wanted to do growing up?
  • When have you felt your biggest adrenaline rush?
  • What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done and would you do it again?
  • What’s your biggest regret in life?

Learning

  • What have you tried to learn that you didn’t understand?
  • Did you learn any new words today?
  • What is something you saw that made you think?
  • Tell me something you know today that you didn’t know yesterday.
  • What questions did you ask at school today?
  • Teach me something I don’t know.
  • If you could switch seats with anyone in class, who would it be? And why?
  • If you switched places with your teacher tomorrow, what would you teach the class?
  • University or life experience, which do you feel best prepares you for life?
  • What is the one thing that should be taught in school that isn’t already?
  • If we were to co-write a paper, what would the topic be?

Government

  • Is democracy the same as decision by the majority?
  • Should people who pay more taxes get more votes?
  • Is democracy suitable for all countries?
  • When should governments intervene in the market?
  • Is there a difference between free trade and fair trade?
  • What is wrong, if anything, about protectionism?
  • Is it the main purpose of law to promote morality?
  • When is it ok, if ever, to disobey the law?
  • Should governments penalize people for unhealthy lifestyles?
  • Is patriotism irrational?
  • Is the preservation of culture a good reason to limit immigration?
  • Can wars ever be just?
  • Why ban drugs and not alcohol or trans-fat?

Human Rights

  • Is it all right to torture terrorists to extract information?
  • Should prostitution be made legal?
  • Is abortion ever permissible?
  • Is it wrong to have children, if you don’t know whether they want to be born?
  • How much freedom should people have?
  • Are people free to sell themselves into slavery?
  • Why think there are universal human rights?
  • Should people have the right to live in any country they wish?
  • Do animals have rights?
  • If we eat chickens, why not dogs, dolphins, or babies?
  • If super-intelligent aliens want to eat humans, are they wrong?
  • If meat can be grown using stem cells, is there any reason not to eat meat?
  • Should we let people commit suicide when they are terminally ill?
  • Should we kill coma patients on life support to provide more resources to others?
  • Should organ donation be made compulsory?
  • Should organ donors be financially compensated?
  • Is it wrong to grow brain dead babies to harvest their organs?
  • Why do we punish people?

Morality & Social Code

  • Is morality relative?
  • Is it objectively wrong to torture innocent babies just for fun?
  • Is it wrong to spend money on expensive food when people are dying of hunger?
  • If someone is drowning and you refuse to help, are you responsible for his death?
  • What is friendship and why do we need it?
  • What is wrong with incest?
  • Is there such a thing as sexual perversion?
  • What is wrong with having sex with animals?
  • Is race a biological category or a social construct?
  • Why should we respect the dead?

 Philosophy

  • What’s your philosophy in life?
  • Is there progress in philosophy?
  • What is philosophy anyway?
  • Are you the same person you were ten years ago?
  • What is the meaning of life?
  • Is life meaningless if we can live forever?
  • Consider the two: nothing you do matters or has any meaning. Everything you do matters and has meaning. Which would you pick?
  • “This sentence is false.” Is it true or false?
  • “It will rain a week later.” Is it true or false or neither?
  • Is truth relative, or a matter of opinion?
  • Is happiness the most important purpose in life?
  • Which would you rather be – an unhappy human being or a happy dog?
  • Is it always better to have more choices? Does free will really exist?
  • If there is no free will, should we punish people at all?
  • Why is there something rather than nothing?
  • Should we fear death?
  • If we live in a computer simulation, does it make a difference to the meaning of life?
  • Would you choose to live in a computer simulation if it will make you a lot happier?
  • Does Sherlock Holmes exist?
  • Can we be certain of anything?
  • What is art?
  • Is there progress in art?
  • Can food be art?

Consciousness

  • What is consciousness?
  • Is the mind the same as the brain, or do we have souls?
  • Can computers think, or fall in love?
  • Can computers be creative?
  • Can we really know what it feels like to be a bat [insert animal here]?
  • When you have a toothache, is the pain in your mouth or in your brain?
  • What is a person? Is it the mind, or the body?
  • Do we think with language or pictures?
  • Why do we dream?
  • Can animals reason? What about fish, oysters and tomatoes?
  • How do you know you are not dreaming right now?

Science/Math/Cosmos/Physics

  • What is science?
  • Why believe in electrons and blackholes if we can’t see them?
  • Can there be two different theories of the world, both true and complete?
  • How should we distinguish between good and bad scientific theories?
  • Why is mathematics so important in science?
  • Is mathematics the same as logic?
  • What is time?
  • Does time flow? How fast does it flow?
  • Can something be at two places at the same time?
  • Is time travel possible?
  • If you can travel back in time, can you kill your earlier self?
  • If you go back in time and teach young Einstein relativity theory, where does the idea come from?
  • Are there parallel universes?
  • Does every event have a cause?
  • What are numbers and do they really exist?

Life & Religion

  • Are you religious or spiritual?
  • If God knows what you will do tomorrow, do you still have freewill?
  • Does God exist?
  • If God exists, why is there so much evil in the world?
  • Can God create a stone so heavy that he cannot lift?
  • Can there be two almighty Gods?
  • Can there be morality without God?
  • Is science compatible with religion?

Further Reading:

Image Source: Jonas Merian

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