Just what does it mean to be an excellent conversationalist? You have tried it many times before. You are initiating small talk with a stranger, or you want to make a good impression at a job interview. Perhaps you are simply just hanging out with friends and family. Every day you need to communicate with others, but very few people are excellent conversationalists.
Here are a few tips on how you can become an excellent conversationalist:
1. Ask questions
Let’s face it. There is nothing that people love more than themselves. Therefore, you always have to ask people questions. Unless you are speaking with Elon Musk, you don’t want to have an entire conversation with someone, and you are the only one asking the questions. The chances are that you will find that conversation pretty damn boring. However, the other person will often leave the conversation with an entirely different impression of you being an excellent conversationalist. They will feel good about themselves because of how interesting you think they are. Now, don’t overdo the questions and also embrace moments of silence. Otherwise, you may come off as too inquisitive or intense.
So, what if the questions do not come to you naturally? Listen to the stories people tell and the small details about themselves and always think about ways to ask for more details. Also, always have a backup list of basic questions that you can always ask (Where do you live? Where do you work? How long have you lived/worked there? Do you have any siblings?). All of these show a general interest in the other person.
Tired of asking questions all the time? Just listen in to what the other person is saying. And I mean, really listen. Sometimes you do not have to follow all of the other person’s sentences up with a question. You can follow the other person’s story by talking about a similar experience you have had or try to show excitement and give encouraging words to the story you just heard. For example, if you have asked where the person lives, tell him or her about a trip you once had to that city and where you stayed, and what you love about the city (stay positive!).
3. Focus on your body language
Always think about your body language. You want to come off as interested, but not creepy, and you want to come off as relaxed and comfortable, but not arrogant. To achieve that, here are four general guidelines to follow:
- Never (!) cross your arms – it shows that you are on the defense and uninterested in the other person.
- Try to tilt your head slightly towards one side when you are listening (because you are listening, right?) – this shows that you are actively listening to the other person.
- Let those hands rest – if you are listening, sit still with your hands, if you are talking. It may be a good idea to show some expressions with hand gestures, though, but don’t do weird stuff like constantly clicking a pen.
- Smile – nothing can get you a quicker direct road to the heart of another person than a smile.
4. Be present and positive
Always be present when you are talking to someone. This means eye contact, no flickering eyes looking at the surroundings and … dare I say it, no fiddling your phone! Yes, put that phone away when you are talking with someone. There is nothing that can ruin an entire conversation and all the positive impressions you have made than pulling out your iPhone and start chatting other people. If you have to pull out your iPhone (and I mean, a serious SOS), then politely apologize and get your business done ASAP.
Being present does not help if you are negative. A general rule is always to be positive. Try to be amazed, intrigued and entertained by what the other person tells you – this goes for your body language (you are smiling, right?) and for the words you say when you react to a story. Examples could be “Wow, really?!” or “That is crazy! I have never heard about that”.
5. Use and memorize names
The fifth and final tip is one of my favorites, and this is where you will get to stand out. What is more important to people than talking about themselves? Their own names. You should make it a clear objective to memorize and learn all names of people you meet (all presidents learn this trick on day 1 in the office). You should try to use other people’s names as often as possible in conversations. This is especially powerful for people you have just met (who might not even remember your name) and shows a genuine interest in them.
However, it is also highly powerful for people that you have met several times or know really well. Try to incorporate names in quite a few of your sentences (without overdoing it, then it becomes weird). For example: “John, how is it going with…?” or “I am so glad you are saying that, John, it reminds me of…”.
People. Love. Their. Own. Name.
Becoming an excellent conversationalist is not something you are born with and neither does it come naturally. You’ll mostly have to go out of your way to keep things interesting before they take their own course. I hope that you found these five tips inspirational and that you are ready to become the excellent conversationalist that everyone wants to have around.
Now, if you could also share with us some of your own tips and tricks that you use to have great conversations, we’d all be a happy lot. Hop on to the comments section, will you?