The art of conversation, like any art, is a skill of elegance, nuance and creative execution.
When it comes to the art of conversation we've all met people who seem to have the knack for it. They can talk to anybody about anything and they seem to do it with complete ease. And while it's true that there are those who are born with the gift of gab, luckily for the rest of us, conversation skills can be developed and mastered.
In my article Good Communication Skills - Key to Any Success, I talk about the importance of being a good communicator and I give tips on how to convey ideas and information successfully. Many of the same tips hold true for developing good conversational skills. Have a look at the article for added tips which I won't be repeating here.
Conversation is a form of communication; however, it is usually more spontaneous and less formal. We enter conversations for purposes of pleasant engagement in order to meet new people, to find out information and to enjoy social interactions. As far as types of conversation, they vary anywhere from intellectual conversations and information exchanges to friendly debate and witty banter.
While there is more to having good conversation skills than being a comedian, dramatic actor, or a great story teller, it is not necessary to become more gregarious, animated, or outgoing. Instead, you can develop the ability to listen attentively, ask fitting questions, and pay attention to the answers - all qualities essential to the art of conversation. With diligent practice and several good pointers, anyone can improve their conversation skills.
If you happen to be shy and need time to warm up before you share your own views, you can ask open-ended questions or encourage the other person to elaborate on their insights. This kick-starts the conversation and before you know it you are engaged in a good conversational flow.
Ensure there is a balance of give and take. A conversation can get boring quickly if one person is doing all the talking while the other is trying to get a word in edgewise. When that happens whoever is not talking begins to tune out and there is no conversation!
There can be many reasons for a lack of give and take. Sometimes nervousness can get in the way and you ramble on without realizing it. Or, nervousness can make you freeze and you don't know what to say next. If you find yourself freezing up, take a deep breath and do your best to focus; smile, and then reflect on what you want to say. If the other person is the rambler and you've tried several times to interject but haven't been able to, then excuse yourself politely and move on.
If later on you realize that you were the rambler (heaven forbid), then at least you will have made the most important step towards improvement which is - awareness.
Determine whether your tendency to dominate a conversation is due to nervousness or self-involvement.
Either way, review the conversation in your head. Look for spots where you could have paused and allowed the other person to talk. For future conversations a good rule of thumb is after you make a point, pause for either agreement or an alternative point of view. Observe body language for cues whether to stop or continue. For example, is the person glossy-eyed and therefore bored? Are they moving towards you to speak and you just keep on talking? Are they looking elsewhere (for an escape) while you are carrying on? In a good conversation each person needs to express themselves or it is no longer a conversation but a monologue.
Be interesting and have something to say. While you don't have to be a comedian, entertainer, or brilliant raconteur, you do need to be interesting otherwise what would you say? If you are not well informed, tend not to read much, or have very few interests, you will have very little to talk about except yourself. Unfortunately, no one wants to hear about your latest troubles, conquests, or daily routine. Yet so many dull conversationalists believe that's what people want to hear from them. Who hasn't been stuck with someone at a social event who blathers on about their family history, latest job interview, or the like?
To avoid being that person, become knowledgeable about world events, people in the news, or what's going on locally. Take time to keep up with the latest music, new technological discoveries, or recent best sellers. No one can know everything, so if you can enlighten someone during the course of a conversation, you'll be a hit! By the same token, you can learn something new as well.
Of course, not all conversations are knowledge sharing gatherings or discussions of global import. Many, especially at social functions, consist of light-hearted and cheerful banter. In such cases, be aware of the tone and mood of the conversation and go with the flow. If you are not particularly good at one-liners, or much of a jokester, you can always listen, smile and enjoy the humor. Never act like you feel out of place or ill at ease.
Be relaxed, be yourself. If you are on edge, or trying to be someone you're not, it will show and therefore doom a conversation to failure before it starts. Admittedly, if you are not relaxed it's hard to appear as if you are. Slow down and take a deep breath. If you don't do your best to relax, you will end up saying something silly, unintelligible, or unrelated to the conversation. Also smile warmly; it will make you appear pleasant and therefore, more approachable. Worth noting: if you are trying too hard to be something you're not, you will come across as a fake or a wannabe.
To start a conversation, go up to someone and introduce yourself. It is both polite and necessary to start things off smoothly. If the occasion calls for it, you can offer a handshake and then smile and make eye contact. Being friendly puts the other person at ease and opens the door for them to introduce themselves. If, for whatever reason, your attempt is not well-received and you notice the other person is cool or standoffish, bow out gracefully and move on. Do not take it as a rejection; merely consider that the person has their reasons for not reciprocating. Perhaps they are not feeling well, have had a bad day, or are not in the mood for conversation.
To improve, practice and then practice some more. The art of conversation, like any skill, takes practice. Do not expect to be adept after your first few attempts. It will take practice as well as exposure to many different social situations. A good way to get practice before you venture out to an event is with family members and people you are comfortable with. They can give you helpful and supportive feedback, which in turn, gives you something to work on. You can never have too much practice!
Possessing the art of conversation improves personal, social and work relationships. It gives you the opportunity to meet interesting new people and introduces you to various new topics and subject matter. With practice and application anyone can improve their conversation skills.