I was at Home Depot with my husband recently and I left him alone in the gardening department for 5 minutes so I could go look at a new pot for our garden. When I came back, he was having an in-depth conversation with his new best friend, some random person he had just met. My husband is a bit of an extrovert and loves to chat it up with people where ever he goes. I, on the other hand, am more reserved, maybe a bit of an introvert. Are you like this too? Reserved, maybe an introvert?
I know HOW to have conversations with people, it just doesn’t come as naturally to me as it does my husband. Over the years I’ve developed skills to help with the art of conversation and small talk and I’m going to share them with you.
By the end of this blog post you will have the tools to be a better conversationalist. This is important because it will help you be more confident and poised in social as well as business situations.
Many of us feel nervous or awkward walking up to someone to make an introduction. Here's a trick you can use to help you feel less self-conscious as you approach someone. Act as if you are the host with a focus on the other person’s comfort. This takes the focus off of you and your nerves.
How you introduce yourself will depend on the type of event or situation. Providing context in an introduction opens it up for a conversation. Here’s what I mean:
Forgot a name
I wish we all walked through life wearing name tags. It would make it so much easier to call someone by their name. Here are some ways to help remember the name of someone you have just met.
When we meet people in North America, we extend our right hand as a greeting. Keep in mind that not all cultures practice this tradition so be aware of that as you meet people. Also, Covid changed how we think about handshakes. Watch for these cues to see if they are comfortable shaking hands:
It’s good to have some conversation starters in mind before you go to an event. These will be slightly different for a business event vs. a social event. When you start with some basics the conversation will flow from there.
Ideas for a business event:
Follow Up Questions
There’s a saying that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. The key to being a good conversationalist is being a good listener. Here are some phrases you can use that will make you come off as a great conversationalist with very little effort on your part. Remember, these only work if you’re actually listening. When someone is talking, you can respond with follow up questions like:
Some would say small talk is silly or unnecessary but it’s actually one of the building blocks to a more meaningful conversation. You’re not going to jump into a serious conversation as soon as you meet someone. Having some topics in mind will allow the conversation to flow easily.
One of the keys to small talk is to be informed about current events and things going on in your community. A few ideas to discuss are sports, the arts, a new restaurant in town or ask them if they've traveled recently. Also, people love to talk about themselves, so ask them questions.
Keep in mind that there are certain topics to avoid. Avoid talking about personal issues such as finances, health, family or personal relationships. Save those topics for close friends. Steer clear of discussing religion or politics. People typically hold strong positions on these topics and you’re not going to change their mind. Plus, you run the risk of offending them. Also, refrain from discussing money. This includes salaries as well as the cost of things. Not everyone is comfortable talking about this, so save those topics for your closest friends.
Ending A Conversation
There is a bit of an art to ending a conversation. To avoid monopolizing someone’s time at an event you should be mindful of the amount of time you are spending with them. If you’re not one to think on your feet, have phrases in the back of your mind ready to go. Here are some suggestions for ending a conversation:
As you can see, there's a bit of a theme here to be a good conversationalist: Preparation. By having simple topics and phrases in mind for each part of a conversation you will be more confident and poised even if you’re just at Home Depot chatting it up with a fellow shopper.
Suzy Lins is a certified etiquette trainer located in Southern California. Educating on manners and etiquette to help people gain confidence to master business and social situations is the core of her teaching.