Meeting and talking with others is an excellent way of honing your thinking skills and becoming a person that others seek out for advice and information. So here are some ideas when we want to improve our hit rate when conversing with someone.
It starts long before we actually meet someone. You can’t expect to be a great conversationalist if your mind goes blank when you want to speak, or all that comes out is some banal, bland statement about the weather or some other transient subject of little interest to others.
Firstly, Preparation. Read extensively and widely. Immerse yourself in interesting subjects. Become aware of ideas that others are currently discussing. Prepare an argument both for and against a particular viewpoint. Keep a note of funny stories or witty anecdotes that you come across. All this will widen your horizons on subjects and help you become up-to-date with new ideas and concepts that exist out there.
By doing this, you become more confident with new subjects and offer interesting ideas yourself when the time allows.
Then, Practice. The more you converse, the more at ease you become. Get into the habit of conversing with others, maybe a neighbour you haven’t seen for some time, or a cashier at the local supermarket. Waiters in restaurants. People at the fuel station. It doesn’t matter if you stumble or sound funny; this offers you the chance to practice and make an impression.
Then, the conversation itself. Be really interested in the other person. Give good eye-contact and prove you’re fully engaged in the conversation by nodding, smiling and giving brief verbal signals (uh-huh, yeah). Make sure these responses are natural and unforced, or they will become an embarrassing, distracting mannerism, or an indication you are simply faking it.
Respond effectively to what they have said by making a statement regarding it, or asking a clarifying question. Don’t simply try to ‘out-do’ the other person by stating an anecdote that makes you sound better than them. Simply acknowledge their point and make them sound as if they made a good point or decision there. They will see you as a good communicator even if you are simply listening well.
Try to be alert to your conversational mannerisms. Many people say things like ‘basically’, ‘actually’, ‘you know’, ‘I mean’ and ‘at the end of the day’ so often that it makes the other consciously aware of these mannerisms and they start counting how many times they are said, rather than listening to what else you are saying.
Use quick anecdotes wisely. Don’t try and be funny for the sake of it. By trying too hard, you lose impact and become embarrassing.
Follow the conversation’s flow. Be aware of the emotions the other is showing and rather than trying to correct or judge them, allow them to share the feelings and then simply acknowledge them with understanding. Very often, a person will state something and you will offer an answer or advice or suggestion, when really what they wanted was a simple listening ear. So be aware of what the real meaning and intention is that the other person is putting across.
So, a good conversationalist:
* Creates a balance between listening and talking
* Has a genuine exchange of views and information, not a monologue
* Has a mix of spontaneous and semi-rehearsed ideas to share
* Uses discussions as an opportunity to learn and share, not just to show their knowledge
When first-class conversationalists leave the room, people remember them for the impact of their words. Practice, practice, practice and then you will become confident and make impressions for the right reasons. That way, your overall communication skills in all areas will improve too.
Originally published: 4 April, 2012
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