If you, like me, weren’t born knowing how to effortlessly talk to anyone, this guide is for you. Here are 11 resources on how to improve your conversation skills.
1. Find out what you have in common with someone
A few years ago, I started wondering about the difference between the conversations that seemed endlessly entertaining, and the ones that went nowhere quickly.
Was I the problem? Were some conversational topics just more engaging than others? The answer is kind of a “yes, but no”.
The best way to keep a conversation going is when both you and the person you talk to are interested in continuing it. You do that by talking about things you have in common.
You don’t have to know someone well to be able to find out things you have in common. You can find commonalities even with complete strangers by observing them and based on that decide what topics to bring up.
Here’s a link to my full guide where I explain how to make conversation in detail. In it, I talk about how to improve your conversation skills by finding common interests with anyone you meet.
2. Practice making more small talk
Before I started training my social skills, whenever I’d have to go up and talk to someone, I got really nervous and started worrying. What will people think about me? What do I talk to them about?
Later I learned that talking to someone isn’t about making a perfectly structured, elaborate conversation worthy of an Oscar for dramatic writing. It’s about being relevant to the situation you’re in. It’s about being sincere, rather than frantically trying to come up with something interesting to say.
Don’t be afraid of small talk. Using it won’t make you shallow or uninteresting. What it will do, though, is get the conversation going! And once you get it going, you can ask the person slightly personal questions, and then use follow-up questions.
Follow this link to read my complete guide for starting conversations.
3. Gradually ask more personal questions
When I moved to a new city and didn’t know any people there, I couldn’t seem to find anyone I could have an intellectual conversation with. I greatly missed having deep conversations with my friends.
“Did people get just too busy with their mobile devices and portable entertainment?”, I thought, “Was no one interested in the same things that I was?”
Of course, it was not really the case. I managed to turn the situation around. You don’t want to get stuck in small talk. Over time, you want to ask more and more personal questions.
Here’s my blog post that describes how I managed to start having meaningful and deep conversations when I improved my conversation skills.
4. Find a balance between asking and sharing
Do you often have those conversations that feel more like an interrogation, when you keep asking questions and getting short, straight to the point answers? The other person might not know what to say, or the conversation just might not be interesting enough.
There’s a couple of things we can do to avoid this situation. Don’t focus all your attention on the other person, or on yourself – keep the conversation balanced. We can ask questions that are related to each other. Or, you can also get a conversation going by making a positive statement, instead of asking questions right away.
Click on this link to read more about how to make conversation without asking too many questions. It’s about why conversations die out, and how to keep them interesting without getting stuck in endless questions.
5. Use your surroundings to find things to say
Many websites on the internet boast having big lists of random conversation topics. It can be good to memorize a question or two, but conversations and small talk shouldn’t be random if you’re looking to bond with someone.
Use what’s around you for inspiration for how to start a conversation. “I love how they renovated their apartment” can be more than enough to show that you’re open to interaction at a dinner party.
Here’s our guide on how to make small talk.
6. Give yourself time for breaks
For us introverts, making conversation can be one of the most intimidating parts of socializing. As an introvert, we need more time recharging to prevent social burnout. Allow yourself to leave a party earlier or having a weekend all by yourself.
Here’s our full guide on making conversation as an introvert.
7. Be approachable
Talking to someone you don’t know can be a bit scary. Years ago I used to think, what do I even say, how do I behave, and why even bother?
But of course, talking to people you don’t know is how you get to know them. Follow my tips to make it easier for you to connect to strangers.
Don’t be afraid to express your personality. People pick up on fakery. Being sincere goes a much longer way.
Appearing approachable is very important when talking to new people. Body language is a big part of it. Standing straight, keeping your head up and smiling makes a huge difference.
Don’t afraid of being excited about meeting someone new. When you express interest in people and listen to them, they will open up to you, and your conversations will turn into something meaningful.
8. Signal that you’ll talk when in groups
Interrupting is rude, that’s a given. So then how are you supposed to join an ongoing group conversation that seemingly never dies down?
Due to the nature of group conversations, you can’t just wait for your turn. At the same time, you can’t blatantly interrupt people.
A trick that works well is to breathe in quickly just before you’re about to talk. This creates the recognizable sound of someone just about to say something. Combine that with a sweeping movement of our hand before you start talking.
When I do this, people subconsciously register that I’m about to start talking, and the hand gesture draws people’s eyes toward me.
There are a few differences between a group- and a 1 on 1 conversation that people tend to ignore: When there are more people in a conversation, it’s often more about having fun than getting to know each other on a deep level.
The more people in the group, the more time you spend listening. Keeping eye contact with the current speaker, nodding and reacting helps to keep you a part of the conversation even when you’re not saying anything.
Read my full blog post on how to join a group conversation here.
9. Practice your group conversation skills
If you’re already included in a group conversation, it’s still possible to end up as a passive listener and be left wondering – what happened?
I have a friend who gets included in every group conversation that he joins, even though he talks less than most other people. It took me years to finally figure out that his main trick is to include others in whatever he’s talking about.
The reason it works is that people love being acknowledged. If a person constantly talks about whatever is on his mind, however fascinating it is, people will tire of the self-centeredness.
10. Get to know the person you talk to
When you talk to someone you don’t know, it’s often hard to come up with things to say.
There is a clever way to come up with what to say by using a different part of the brain than you normally would.
The short summary would look like this:
- Keep the initial conversation as simple as possible.
- Find out where the person is from, where the person is today, and where the person is going – simply by asking questions.
- Share relevant bits and pieces about your own life, so that you share roughly the same amount of information.
- In an environment where you’re not expected to socialize, first focus on the situation you’re in to warm up the conversation.
This is a summary of what’s called the Timeline Method. Click here to learn how to use it to keep a conversation going.
11. Practice looking for body language signals
Do you sometimes have a conversation that goes on longer than needed? Whatever the reason, it’s always unpleasant and awkward.
There are a few things we can do to avoid this situation.
First, analyze the conversation. Are you going off-topic and asking the other person about things you’re not that interested in? Is the conversation slowing down?
If so, you should watch for the other person giving you a signal. Usually, you can notice it with their body language, for example acting distracted, looking away or shifting uncomfortably.
There are also verbal signals to listen for – sometimes people will say something about what they’re doing in the immediate future, or their voice might start trailing off, easing the conversation to an end.
For a fuller list of things to watch out for, as well as some exceptions, read my full article on how to know when a conversation is over.
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