While making conversation may come a bit more naturally to some, there are basic concepts to learn and develop that can make anyone a gifted conversationalist.
As with many skills, starting is often the hardest part. Getting past the first step creates a base of self-confidence that grows with each new success. Using these tips will give you a solid foundation to be able to start a conversation with anyone in any setting.
Keep It Simple
People often agonize over coming up with the perfect opening line and then give up before they even begin, believing they can’t possibly be clever enough. You’ll save a lot of time and anxiety when you realize that the simplest approach is best. “Hi, I’m [NAME]. How are you?” introduces you to the other person and helps put them at ease with just a few words.
If you’re in a situation that brings you together with people for a specific purpose, such as starting a new job or joining a class, let that guide your first few questions. Ask if they know any of the others or what brought them there. If it’s a more random social interaction, such as meeting at a sporting event, allow natural curiosity to frame your questions. Inquire about where they’re from or where they got that creative t-shirt they’re wearing. Include the word “you” to show your interest in getting to know them.
Practice Active Listening
Conversational opportunities often get lost because people are so busy thinking about what they want to say that they miss out on helpful cues from the other person. If you really listen to what they’re saying, you can pick up on interesting tidbits you can use to steer the conversation in a direction that gets your partner to open up more.
Think of this technique as “conversational threading”. It’s similar to threads on Facebook or other social media sites where each comment picks up on a tidbit from the previous one. As an example, say you’re talking to someone you meet at an author reading in a bookstore. An easy opening question would be whether they’ve been to any other readings. If they name some other authors, ask what they like about them. If it’s their first time, ask why they decided to come to this one. The conversation continues organically, rather than letting each response become a dead end.
Avoid the Reserved Approach
Sometimes people will attempt to start a conversation with a complaint. Maybe you’re in line at the grocery store, and the person behind you will express dissatisfaction with how slowly it’s moving. This can brand you as a negative person right off the bat, killing any chance of conversation before it even gets started. A positive attitude will put people at ease and make them more responsive to your efforts.
Being positive often gets confused for being overeager, which then comes off as desperate and needy. People may sometimes overcompensate by adopting a cool, stand-offish demeanor. If that’s the case with someone you attempt to talk to, don’t let it discourage you. Keep in mind that it’s most likely a defense against rejection rather than a lack of interest in you or what you have to say. Maintaining a friendly, positive tone demonstrates your sincerity and allows the other person to let their guard down.
It’s often said that getting started is half the battle. If that’s true, then practicing these methods for beginning a conversation will have you well on your way to becoming truly skilled.