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How to Start a Conversation Without Saying a Word

molly profile image Molly Struve (she/her) ・2 min read

How many of you LOVE going to conferences, but hate the awkwardness of having to walk up and talk to people you don't know???

I am definitely in that boat! At my core, I am an introvert. The idea of having to go up to someone I don't know and introduce myself is terrifying. Once the conversation is going, I am usually fine. But that initial approach is the worst! Thankfully, over the years, I have found a way to avoid having to make the first move altogether. Whenever I go to a meetup, conference, or any dev related social event I always follow this advice 👇

Wear Your Conversation Starter

When you go to a networking event, such as a meetup or a conference, wear something that will cause someone to strike up a conversation with you! Given that the engineering dress code is usually informal, and consists a lot of hoodies and T-shirts, wearing a conversation starter is incredibly easy.

Examples:

  • A T-shirt with any of the following:
    • Favorite sports team or sport in general
    • Favorite piece of software
    • City you are from
    • State you are from
    • Your college
    • Your favorite movie, TV show, computer game, band etc.
    • An organization you are a part of
  • A hat with any of the above
  • A laptop sticker or bag patch with any of the above

The key is visibility. You want someone to be able to spot your conversation starter easily. By showing off what you are interested in, those with the same or similar interests, will often come up to you and start the conversation for you! By doing this, you will get yourself off the hook for having to initiate most of the conversations. Personally, I find it much easier to talk to someone when they come up to me, rather than me having to go up to them.

Look For Conversation Starters

On the flip side, when you are at a meetup or conference, have your eye out for others who might be wearing conversation starters! If you see someone wearing a T-shirt with your city flag or alma-mater or favorite sports team, walk up and start a conversation using that piece of commonality. Hey, I see you are wearing an XYZ shirt, is that where you went to school? Is that where you are from? etc. Having a little piece of commonality like that will make getting the conversation going a lot easier than starting with something like, "Oh the weather was nice today!"

By wearing your conversation starter, you can find common ground with a stranger without even saying a word and that is going to make networking and meeting people a whole lot easier! So grab your favorite T-shirt and get out there and make some new nerdy friends! 🤓

Discussion (22)

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yechielk profile image
Yechiel Kalmenson

OMG! This is the post I needed and didn't know!

From the other direction, make it easier for people to join in your conversations. One excellent rule I heard is to follow the "Pac-Man rule"; whenever a few people are standing around and talking, don't close the circle, leave an open spot to signal to others that it's ok to join.

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molly profile image
Molly Struve (she/her) Author

I have never heard of the "Pac-Man rule", I love it! Will definitely remember that one for the future!!! Thanks!

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern • Edited

shop.dev.to 😉

Hope to see folks around conferences this year!

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Tryggvi Björgvinsson

Hmm... I wonder if the dev apron can be a good conversation starter at conferences 🤔

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Bring your BBQ!

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buphmin

For me I like to dress nice, and in particular wear nice shoes.

It still surprises me how much people actually pay attention to shoes. The craziest moment was when I was riding my bike home from work in the dark and a motorcycle pulled up next to me and saw my shoes somehow and the guy said something like "wow, those are some awesome shoes!" So it does not have to necessarily be a graphic to start a conversation, sometimes just your overall presentation can be enough.

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molly profile image
Molly Struve (she/her) Author

SO TRUE! I usually go for the easy graphic but if your personal style is enough to engage someone to strike up a conversation then definitely, stick to it! My personal style is a little boring so I gotta put some extra effort in to actually make sure I "stand out" 😉

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Max Ong Zong Bao • Edited

😂 😂 😂 Makes me want to get the game of throne t-shirt with the word "Winter is Coming"

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molly profile image
Molly Struve (she/her) Author

LOVE Game of Thrones!

I have this shirt 👇

The first time I wore it to work I ended up talking with a few people I had never really had a conversation with before. It was pretty cool.

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gawwad profile image
Thomas Aquainas

Conversation starter? MAGA hat. Nuff said.

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rickpage profile image
Rick Page

Sombrero

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Max Ong Zong Bao

You mean a straw hat right? 😂 😂 😂 😂 😂

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maciekchmura profile image
Maciek Chmura

Perfect timing for me to read this.
I am going for a meetup today. Need to wear my Hacktoberfest Tshirt then ;D

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molly profile image
Molly Struve (she/her) Author

YES!!!! So jealous, I was working to get one but didn't quite meet the deadline. Definitely going to be trying for it again this year 😃

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Max Antonucci

Another useful tip along these lines: wear buttons! I plan to wear a wide variety of buttons so a wide variety of people can approach me.

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Molly Struve (she/her) Author

YES! You could put them all over your backpack!

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Max Antonucci

Believe me I'm way ahead of you there :P

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Alexander Antoniades

Next time I see people with these t-shirts I'll know where they got the idea from :p

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morgana

This is genius!

I need to go shopping now...

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John Paul Ada

I do this! :D I'm hoping a lot more people talk to me :'D

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wiz profile image
wiz

this an excellent idea. No doubt!
Thanx @molly