Getting Good at the Art of Conversation

By Dr. Jeff St. John

Have you ever watned to win over a roomful of people, engage someone's attention, or just be able to simply have a good conversation with someone but haven't had the conversation skills to pull it off? If you want to learn the gift of gab, then check out these great pointers for having a good conversation.


Conversation Starters    to top

First introduce yourself; this sounds simple, but it is something that most of us forget to do. The next time you'd like to start a conversation with someone, look him or her in the eyes, smile, extend your hand first and then say, "hi, my name is (your name). What's Yours?" This is usually the easiest and fastest way to get a conversation started.

Most people are easily bored by listening to someone else's life story, but enjoy telling their own. Keep this in mind when you meet someone new and ask questions about him or her. This shows the other person that you are genuinely interested in getting to know more about him or her and will prove you to be someone who is a kind and considerate person. It will also help prevent you from worrying about how you are coming across because your attention will be focused on the other person instead of yourself.

Ask your new friend where he or she is from. Did this person grow up in another city, another state, another country? Maybe you're even from the same place and knew some of the same people. Asking where someone is from is an effective and noninstrusive way of learning more about the other person's history and culture.

You can tell a lot about a person by what profession he or she has chosen and if he or she likes what they do for a living. If someone is a psychologist, she is probably very analytical or intuitive, unless she does not feel like she is well suited for her job. In that case, she will probably tell you that she does not enjoy her work and is looking to go into another field. You can ask your new friend, "So, Do you like what you do for a living, or is it just a living?" This is a thought-provoking question that will usually intrigue the other person and it will tell you a little more about his or her personality. Avoid starting a conversation by asking someone what it is they actually do for a living. Otherwise, it may look like you're just interested in how much money he or she makes.

Say the first thing that comes to mind (without being offensive) when you're talking to someone. This can be a a memorable and funny way to start a conversation. This will also help you to act more confident than you may actually feel when you talk to someone for the first time.

Everyone likes compliments! So, the next time you notice something about someone who you'd like to start a conversation with, mention it! Say, "Hey, I like your tie!" or "Great haircut!" You'll get that person's immediate attention and they'll be eager to hear what you have to say next!

Talk Tips

Play a game with yourself! Tell yourself that you've known this new person forever. Pretend that you are long lost friends and that you can't wait to hear what's been happening in his or her life. You'll find that when you pretend to be confident and comfortable in this way, it will help the person feel the same way, too. Eventually the confidence and comfort will really develop. He or she will probably end up saying, "You're really easy to talk to" or "I feel like I've known you forever."


Conversation Keepers    to top

Listen to everything the other person has to say. Everything you hear is new information and tells you more about what the other person is like and what he or she likes. If you listen long enough, you will understand how to communicate with him or her better. She may say, "The last person I met at a party just kept talking and talking about himself the whole night!" Obviously, the best way to communicate with her is to ask her questions about herself and to listen. Try to really hear what the other person has to say and do not become overly preoccupied with what you are going to say next.

If the person you are talking with says, "I just got back from Hawaii" and you've been there before, you can say something like, "I've been there, too, isn't it a beautiful place to visit?" People like to feel understood and sharing your common experiences will help others to feel this way. Always be brief and positive in sharing your common experiences, and avoid complaining whenever possible.

If you don't have much in common with the person you are speaking with (let's say you've never been to Hawaii) then quickly scan the room for someone nearby who does have more in common with the person you are speaking to. You can say something like, "Hey, Terry, we were just talking about Hawaiian vacations. Come over here and tell us about the time that you went!" This gives someone else the opportunity to be included in your discussion and you can let the others carry the conversation for a little while. This also gives your new acquaintance someone else to talk to in case you would like to excuse yourself.

If you don't have much in common with the person you are speaking with (let's say you've never been to Hawaii) then quickly scan the room for someone nearby who does have more in common with the person you are speaking to. You can say something like, "Hey, Terry, we were just talking about Hawaiian vacations. Come over here and tell us about the time that you went!" This gives someone else the opportunity to be included in your discussion and you can let the others carry the conversation for a little while. This also gives your new acquaintance someone else to talk to in case you would like to excuse yourself.

Talk Tip

Ask open-ended questions that require an explanation rather than a "yes" or "no" response. For example, you might ask your new friend, "So, how was Hawaii?" instead of "Did you like Hawaii?" This gives the person the opportunity to carry the conversation for a while and you can just listen.

If the person you are talking to still does not know what to say and you are at a loss for words, too, then put yourself in his or her shoes. Imagine what it must have been like to be in his or her situation. You might say something like, "That must have been a beautiful trip for you" or "That must have been a really relaxing vacation." The other person will usually agree or disagree and explain the reasons why. Again, all you have to do is listen!

Another great way to keep a conversation going is to simply say, "Really? Tell me about it!" You can respond in this way to just about anything that someone tells you and it will sound completely natural and very sincere. Try it the next time there is a lull in the conversation or neither of you know what to say next, you'll be delighted with how quickly the conversation will continue.

You can fill any lulls in your conversation by making positive observations. If she says something pleasant you can say, "That's great!" Or if he says something humorous, you can say, "That's so funny!" Always make positive observations and avoid negative judgments or criticisms. You'll discover that this is a very easy way to keep any conversation going!

Be aware of your body language when you are talking to the other person. Be sure to smile and nod "yes" a few times when the other person is speaking. This tells the other person that he or she has your undivided attention and that you are enjoying your conversation. It also tells the other person that he or she is welcome to continue talking with you. Avoid disinterested body language (like looking around the room) or defensive body language (such as crossing your arms across your chest) that tells the other person that you would like to end your conversation.


Conversation stoppers    to top

There are pleasant and unpleasant ways of stopping a conversation. One of the unpleasant ways to end a conversation is to bring up an awkward or controversial topic such as sex, religion, politics, or money. All of these topics of conversation should be reserved for a later date when you know the other person much better. Also, avoid making sexual innuendoes or sarcastic remarks. Even if others you know well appreciate this kind of humor, your new friend might not and you won't want to end your conversation on an unpleasant note.

Talk Tip

Try to end every conversation by saying, "It was a pleasure talking with you." This is not only a polite way to end a conversation, but it is also a great way to avoid those awkward moments of admitting that you can't remember whether you have actually met or spoken to this other person before. So, remember, "It was a pleasure talking with you" is usually one of the best ways to end a conversation.

When you end a conversation, be sure to look the other person directly in the eyes, smile, give him or her a firm handshake, and say, "Good-bye." This tells the other person that your conversation is officially over. It is a polite way to end a conversation with someone who might otherwise never stop talking and it prevents those awkward moments from occurring when neither of you knows what to say or do when you are through talking.


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