Having the flexibility to work from just about anywhere has its perks. This past weekend was spent organizing and running a fishing tournament fundraiser, so I had the relaxing luxury of working aside a lake. The breeze was perfect, the pelicans made for good company, and as this is being written, all anglers are out fishing.

Occasionally I took a break to wander the shoreline, which gave me the opportunity to talk to others there to fish or boat. Starting a conversation is usually easy once eye contact is made and a smile exchanged. Oftentimes I strike up a conversation with a complete stranger. If my kids are around, they ask, “Mom, how do you do that?” Apparently, this is something that comes quite easily to me yet leaves them in awe.

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Now, I am not referring to public speaking, prerecording speeches or facilitating meetings or workgroups. Those take skills and practice to develop. In fact, I cannot do a pre-recorded speech or story to save my soul. Public speaking and facilitating, yes, I sure can do, but there was a lot of practice involved.

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Talking off the cuff is easy, but it too didn’t come without some practice. More so in knowing what to say, when to say it and how to put a little thought into what you’re spontaneously about to say.

There was a time, years ago, when “The Office” was wildly popular, that the news channel visited our office, curious to know if “The Office'' portrayed coworkers accurately.

A coworker and I were nabbed to do the interview, and although we thought we were incredibly hilarious, what we said would come back to haunt us. Needless to say, it was years before we were “allowed” to represent again. Although not so funny then, I laugh out loud when I picture us.

When it comes to striking up a conversation or talking spontaneously with someone, there are a few tips I have discovered that are always at the back of my mind. But let me start with this – I almost never start a conversation with, “It’s a nice day, or it’s sunny today, or can you believe this rain?”

  • Start with a smile and eye contact – it works every time!

  • Skip the few minutes wasted on small talk such as the weather and sports

  • Once you get talking, come up with questions as to what they are doing in that specific place today or where they work

  • I can promise you, after two minutes, the conversation evolves into stories, connections and what a small world it is

Conversations are so valuable when they get beyond the “Hi, how are you?” Aside from that, the relationships one can begin beyond the small talk can be priceless, whether it be personal or work related. The common ground quickly discovered can make you feel like you’ve known the person for years, and how awesome is that?

For example, there are two women at this fishing tournament, and would you believe all three of us are breast cancer survivors? I met these ladies less than 24-hours ago, and the bond feels like it has been there for years.

Does conversing with a stranger make you nervous? Let’s break that down to a very simple question, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Nothing other than they choose not to talk with you. And if that is the case, you most likely aren’t missing out on anything.

It doesn’t matter if you are at a family reunion, a party with friends and acquaintances, or networking for work, learning to overcome the fear of spontaneously conversing is well worth the practice.

Kristen Asleson is owner of Midwest Virtual Assistants. Send comments and ideas to news@postbulletin.com.