You probably know some people who are unremittingly dull company. You may be fortunate enough to know some brilliant conversationalists who can enliven any discussion. In which category would other people place you? How can you improve your conversational skills to become a welcome sight at every social event? Here are some tips.
Most people like to talk about themselves so asking questions is a great way to start conversations. If you meet someone for the first time, start by asking simple, non-threatening questions about them, what they do, where they live etc. If you know someone moderately well then you should be aware of some of their interests so simple questions about those are good ways to start.
In groups similar considerations apply. You should generally start new conversations by throwing out questions rather than making statements or talking about things you have done. By asking questions you draw other people in and engage them.
Great conversationalists are great listeners. Whether you are with one person or a group listen attentively. People like good listeners – wouldn’t you rather speak with someone who was interested in what you had to say rather than someone who looked bored and indifferent? Also, when you listen you learn. When you are speaking you are not learning anything new. Make a conscious effort to focus on what people say. Show that you are interested by asking questions that support and develop the conversation; ‘What do you mean exactly?’, ‘What happened next?’, ‘How did you feel about that?’
Pay compliments whenever you sincerely can. If someone looks smart or has lost weight or has a stylish new haircut then show that you have noticed by giving a genuine compliment. ‘That colour really suits you.’ ‘You are looking very trim today.’ If they tell you about some achievement – say at work or by one of their children then congratulate them. As a matter of general courtesy, you should always thank and compliment your host.
People like to hear their own names. When you meet someone for the first time and learn their name, try to use it. ‘So John, where do you live?’ Using the name helps you to remember it. It also shows that you are interested in them. Mentioning a person by name is a subtle compliment.
Keep up to date on topical issues
It is important to keep abreast of key current issues and topics in the news, entertainment, sports and politics. You should be ready to comment with questions, ideas, facts and opinions on the issues that other people are interested in. So see a few of the latest movies, read some of the most popular fiction and non-fiction, read the newspapers, watch the news, keep up with some major sports stories and watch some TV – but not too much.
When discussing serious topics be prepared to oppose the conventional view and to take a rather provocative stance – even for the sake of doing so. This will lead to a more interesting conversation than if you just agree with what is said. For example if everyone is against some political leader, then come to their defence. If you want to introduce a contentious comment you can distance yourself from it by asking, ‘How would you answer someone who argued that…..?’ Make your points with conviction, evidence and, if possible, humour. But in a social environment be careful not to become belligerent or cantankerous. In general it is best to avoid really sensitive or controversial topics.
There is a place for serious discussion and there is a place for the light-hearted, so be ready to contribute in either environment. Witty comments tend to be spontaneous, clever and unexpected so being witty is not an easy skill to develop but there are some things you can do. Have a stock of funny stories. Do not force them into the conversation but have them ready when you get the cue or when there is a lull. Personal anecdotes relating to unusual experiences and misfortunes that befell you often go down well. Jokes, quotes and other people’s witty remarks can also be used sparingly and with acknowledgement. But beware of smutty or offensive stories. Laugh at other people’s funny stories, even if you have heard them before; never give away someone else’s punch line.
Say what you have to say with clarity, enthusiasm and brevity. Many people mumble their words, or rush through them or whisper so quietly that you have to strain to hear them. Good conversationalists are clear, articulate and easy to understand. They use interesting metaphors and visual images. Keep your sentences short and to the point. If there is a pause then draw someone in with a question.
Be yourself, be natural and don’t try to be anything that you are not. Approach the situation with a positive attitude and tell yourself that you are going to have a good time and meet some interesting people. Relax, smile and enjoy the occasion. People prefer to mix with the happy and good-natured rather than the grumpy and miserable.