Easy Steps To Help You Strike A Conversation!
These days small talk has gotten itself a bad reputation with its harshest critics believing that it’s trivial, meaningless and a chore that spells the death of good conversation. This piece, however, is not about whether small talk is good or bad (a conversation for another day) but how to navigate through the choppy waters of interpersonal interaction with strangers or acquaintances.
Superficial or not small talk is important. Whether you’re at a party, networking event or hanging out with coworkers in the break room, small talk is the first step in getting to know someone. And there’s so many ways to get it wrong. Shyness can be mistaken for arrogance and sitting by yourself with your phone can seem rude. Mistakes like these can really set you back both socially and in the workplace. So if you suffer from social awkwardness, well, that’s a tough hand right there. Not to worry! Don’t write yourself off just yet! Being charming and likable can be learnt! Like any other life skill it requires practice and determination.
Here’s a few handy tips and pointers to get you started.
First impressions are powerful. Before anyone hears you a say a single word they’ll already have a snap judgment based on your appearance. So, it’s smart to take some time and put in the effort when getting dressed. Wear event appropriate clothing and freshen up! No bedhead or un-ironed clothes! And look friendly. A pleasant expression and a smile will make you look more approachable and friendly.
No Dead End Questions
When talking to someone, avoid asking questions that would have a yes/no or one word answer. Instead of saying ‘Do you like the food?’ you can ask ‘What do you think about the food?’ The second question is asking for your conversation partner’s thoughts and opinion. It will get you a longer answer than a ‘fine’ or ‘great’ and will help them open up!
Go Off Script.
Ever watch a movie or TV show and found yourself predicting how the characters dialogue is going to go? That can happen in real life too and it’s just as boring as it is on screen. Try to avoid typical answers to questions. Giving replies that sound stilted make it seem as if you are uninterested and don’t exactly endear you to people. Instead of saying ‘I’m good’ or ‘Everything’s great’ try to give details. Or just rephrase.
Use the Setting
Obvious observations on the surroundings are a trademark of boring conversation. They’re right up there with commenting on the weather. But when meeting someone new the only thing that you instantly have in common is the shared setting. Use this wisely. Ask them why they’re there or maybe discuss the food. Be sure to avoid statements like ‘the weather is nice’ or ‘this is a nice event’ as these don’t have room for a response.
Small talk has to be just that, ‘small’. Sharing too many details about yourself or telling your life story can overwhelm other people. It might seem like a good idea but instead of creating a deeper bond it just makes you seem like you can’t read social cues. It’s best to stay away from anything overtly personal. And stick to neutral topics like a new movie or the venue.
Picture this: you’re at an event, you’ve found an open seat at a table and everyone is discussing the latest headline. The person next to you asks for your opinion on the matter and you freeze. You have no idea what they’re talking about. It’s a nightmarish scenario with the potential to be extremely embarrassing. Keeping up with news and pop culture will not only guarantee that you don’t get caught like a deer in headlights but also gives you a lot of material to talk about.
Read Body Language
Politeness keeps people from saying what they really think. So although someone you just met says they’re interested in whatever you’re both discussing their body language can tell a whole other story. If someone has their torso turned away from you, has their arms crossed or keeps looking about the room like they’re looking for someone it’s best to end the interaction and excuse yourself. They’re just not interested in talking to you.
With all this pressure on talking and keeping a conversation going it’s easy to fall into the trap of talking too much. Be sure to give people time to respond. Not all silences are bad. If there is a lull in the conversation it’s good to let it sit and allow for the person you’re conversing with to gather their thoughts and have the opportunity to bring up something they want to.
Eye Contact Is Powerful, Use It Wisely
Holding eye contact can create a sense of closeness and intimacy. It can also make people trust you more. But too much eye contact comes off as creepy. There’s a fine line between gazing into someone’s eyes and just straight up staring at them. If you’re trying to get a person to like you it’s good to look directly at them occasionally- but not too much!
Nothing in Common? Not a Problem
So you’ve watched the news and know a bit about all the latest shows and movies but the person you’re trying to talk to doesn’t seem interested in any of these. You both simply have nothing in common! They like sports, you like books. They like to cook and you only go into the kitchen to get yourself water. You don’t have to have something in common to be able to connect! Ask them about their interests. Have them talk about their passions and show interest.
Ditch the Phone
It doesn’t matter if you’re using your phone or not. Even having it in your hand or on the table discourages the person you’re talking to. This is called the ‘iphone effect’. A study found that people had less meaningful conversation when one person was holding a smartphone. Having your phone out can also be a distraction with the need to check our notifications. It’s better to leave your phone in a purse or pocket.
Think of a person whose speaking style you admire. It can be anyone; a TV character, a talk show host or a diplomat. Think hard over why you admire them and what makes them good speakers. Do they speak in measured tones or are they very animated? See what you like and try to incorporate that in you.
Goodbyes Are Important
You’ve made polite conversation and gotten to know a bit about the other person. Now it’s time to move on to someone else or to leave. How you say goodbye will form the last impression they have of you. An abrupt exit can ruin an otherwise good exchange. Be sure to excuse yourself gracefully. Mention that it was nice to meet them and it was interesting talking to them. This is particularly important if you’re not leaving the venue and might run into them again.
There’s no one true way to be charming and sociable. Look at TV show hosts and you’ll observe that although they all have the same occupation (engaging viewers, guests, and speaking for long periods of time) their methods are entirely different. Not everyone can be loud and confident, telling interesting anecdotes fluently. See what comes naturally to you and hone it! If you’re awkward, use it to your advantage. You can joke about how terrible you are with talking to new people and have it be a sort of inside joke. Practice with everyone you meet and soon you’ll be pro!