“There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t met yet.”
That quote, from the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, is something to keep in mind the next time you walk into a room filled with people you don’t know. While it can be life changing to take the first step towards making friends—it’s also ridiculously daunting. That’s why we’ve assembled a cheat sheet of body language cues that will tell those friends-you-haven’t-met-yet that you’re up for it, even before the first “Hello.”
1. Keep an open posture
Start with your stance. Make sure you’re not putting a physical blockade between yourself and others. A barrier can be an obvious thing like having your head buried in your phone, or it can be more subtle. Crossing your arms or holding a drink at chest level also closes you off. When you have an open posture—meaning head up, shoulders back, and no barriers—you let others know you’re willing to be approached.
2. Make eye contact
Know why it’s customary to make eye contact when cheersing? Historically it was to tell if your companion had poisoned the wine. A tad extreme, but here’s the point: with only a split-second of eye contact, you can establish trust (or know if you need a new drinking buddy). Have you spotted someone interesting across the room? Catch their eye. This non-verbal cue tells them you’re friendly and ready to chat.
Pro tip: Now let’s say that person comes over. Making eye contact while you talk signals you’re paying attention. But too much eye contact can put people off. How much is the right amount? According to one study, maintaining eye contact 60-70% of the time is ideal for establishing an emotional connection.
3. Turn towards them, fully
When only part of your body, say your head, is turned towards another person, it tells them you’re not engaged and may be looking for a quick exit from the conversation. A simple and powerful way to win someone over is by turning your entire body towards them. Bonus points if you point your feet their way. This little detail instantly reassures them that you’re not about to pull a runner.
4. Smile, and make it real
Check out any paparazzi pic of Meghan Markle. That girl can be having the worst day and you’ll always see her sporting the same joyous smile. What makes it look genuine, rather than like she’s faking it? She smiles with her eyes. That means two things: consciously bringing sparkle into your gaze, and (back to rule number 2) giving others the chance to see it. Fake smilers don’t maintain eye contact.
Pro tip: For best results, don’t give out that smile right away. Body language experts recommend waiting until you’ve registered the other person (eye contact again!). This lets them know they’re the reason for your smile—and that’s way more special than working the room with a smile plastered to your face. Plus, easier on the muscles.
5. Nod, but not too much
Giving a nod tells the speaker you’re following along and interested in what they have to say. But just like with eye contact, where a little bit is good, too much can have a negative effect. Over-nodding sends a message of impatience, as though you’re trying to hurry the conversation along. Show your sincerity by spacing out those head bobs.
6. Be the approacher
What’s the biggest body-language cue you can give a friend you haven’t met yet? Walk straight up to them and start talking. Remember that they’re probably just as open to meeting people (and as nervous about it) as you. Challenge yourself to approach five people and chat with them for at least five minutes. Once done, you’ll have five new friends to circle back to.