I saw a woman juggling, ankle-deep in the ocean. Most people who ‘perform’ want to be noticed.

My opening line to this stranger:
“Love this!’ I say gesturing at her juggling and then sweeping my arm along the horizon. “May I take your picture?”

She looked up at me, her smile getting big, revealing oversized clean white teeth framed with joy. She welcomed my attention.

How do you start a conversation with a stranger? Here are 4 steps to turn a stranger into a friend:

  1. Ask a question
  2. Follow with an acknowledgement so they feel heard.
  3. Compliment their ability or skill (not their appearance)
  4. Reveal something about yourself. Share your story!

The conversation went like this:
Me: How long have you been juggling?”
X: “Many years, but just for fun.”
Me: “Looks like fun and good exercise. How did you learn?”
X: “YouTube. So many juggling videos to learn from!”
Me: (Laugh). I hope to always learn new things like you and Youtube is a great resource! How long have you lived here in JAX?”
X: “Only 2 months!”

Conversation was no effort at this point and I didn’t even know her name! She came from Ohio with her partner who simply wanted to move somewhere new and her job would go with her. However, she had a job that was not remote-friendly and looking for employment.

When her partner came over, we finally introduced ourselves. When I revealed my name, I emphasized the GRAY in my last name and pointed to my hair. She followed with her first name, LaChelle, and then gestured in a circle around her face as she said her last name, Brown. We shared a giggle!

When I asked if they wanted a portrait with the spectacular lighting at that moment, her partner Kim jumped for joy, and told me a story: “I have tried many times to set up my phone camera on timer, but never captured a good shot.”

    Yes, this is a story, not just an anecdote. Why? This one sentence spoke volumes. It told me, a good photo mattered to her. Maybe she wanted to show her family how happy she was. She was vulnerable, admitting she was unsuccessful and frustrated. She cared about looking good with her partner. A good story triggers an emotional response, and this did! I felt an emotion; I cared about helping her get the photo she tried so hard to achieve.

In a couple of minutes, I could change that challenge to a success! I took a few photos including one of them kissing, (at my suggestion …heehee).

The hardest part about starting a conversation with a stranger is the opening line. If you follow a question with an acknowledgement, and reveal something about yourself related to the topic, making new friends will be like ocean waves; questions and answers, comments and connections, one flowing right after the next.

Being new residents of Jacksonville, they had few friends, and now, they have one more …and I have two!

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