Just as most of us weren’t born with a silver spoon in our mouth, we weren’t born knowing how to make conversation. Making conversation is more of an art. Like any art, practice leads to mastery.
1. You can never go wrong with being a good listener.
This doesn’t mean you should just sit there like a lump on a log, like my mother used to say. You need to be an active listener. People love to talk about themselves, so listening to them is a good way to let them have a captive audience.
For this you should practice:
A. Smiling – look natural. If you have a silly grin plastered on your face, people will think you are strange.
B. Nodding – the odd nod to show that you understand. This is not to be confused with nodding off.
C. Eye contact – this can be tricky. You don’t want to stare at someone, that’s just plain spooky. Looking away from time to time is fine.
D. Making occasional comments like: “Really?” ” I know exactly what you mean!” “You don’t say!”(Does anyone really say that anymore?)
2. The day before you go to your get-together, prepare yourself:
A. Read up – if you know someone who is going to be there is a zoologist and you think it might mean that he works at the zoo, read about the job and discover interesting facts you might be able to make conversation out of.
B. Internet Search – you’ve found out one of the other guests is from a different city, state or country. Google some interesting tidbits about that part of the world so you can ask about it. The more interested you are in others, the more interesting you’ll seem to them.
3. Follow the flow of the conversation:
Don’t butt in – you’ve probably met or known a butt-in-er. You also know how annoying it can be, so unless the building is on fire, hold your tongue.
If someone’s made the mistake of starting a controversial topic, it’s better not to say much, even if you don’t agree with what’s being said. If you are wondering what controversial topics might be in this day and age, you’ve got a point.
Unless you are a pro, though, it’s not a good idea to make conversation by opening with politics, sex or religion.
4. Write out a list of conversation starters and practice them the day before:
Safe benign topics are best – ” We’ve sure had a lot of rain, haven’t we?” “Do you have any special plans for Labor Day this year?”
5. Find things to do with your hands if you are nervous:
Hold a beverage and sip it, from time to time.
If your palms are sweaty, wipe them occasionally on a napkin. (If your outfit has pockets, toss in some tissue before you leave the house. If you forgot the tissue, use the pocket!)
Pay attention to the conversations around you. You’ll notice that the way most people around you make conversation is really predictable and not all that complicated. The more practice you get the easier it will be to make conversation like a pro!
Peter Murphy is a peak performance expert. He recently produced a very popular free report: 10 Simple Steps to Developing Communication Confidence. Apply now because it is available only at: conversation starters