If I have a problem (some would say I have many!), it would be that I can talk and talk and talk with anybody and you and you and you.
But I’ve found that knowing HOW to make lively conversation enriches your personal and professional life. For example, I have gotten to be friends with greeters, waiters and waitresses in several restaurants and security folks in multiple buildings throughout Manhattan. Why? I dunno. I just like striking up a conversation. I find people fascinating because each one has a story to tell. And oral communication plays a big part in how we learn about each other and draw closer together. Here are some methods for creating better dialogue.
Easy Methods for Improving Your Conversation Skills
- Spend plenty of time listening. What? It’s true. You may find you need to actually talk less. Balance the amount of time you spend talking and the time you spend listening. Give others a chance to contribute. Think of conversations like a volleyball game where you can’t play unless the ball volleys back and forth over the net. Same thing.
- Offer sincere compliments. If you can’t be genuine, don’t bother. But heartfelt compliments will warm up any exchange. Let people know you recognize their good qualities and the positive impact they make. My client and I once complimented a security man in midtown Manhattan about his expensive-looking gold watch. He beamed! We made a new friend and were greeted with a smile every time we returned over the years.
- Watch how others respond. Be self-aware and observant when you’re talking. Always read the audience. If people are fidgeting, looking away or yawning, it could be a sign to change subjects or draw your chat to a close. (That just happened to me on a 30-minute Zoom call. I saw the other person was looking at things on his desk and responding less, so I instantly knew nothing more that I would say would register well. Next step? Thank him for his time and wrap it up. No personal offense was taken by me; I realized it was just time to end the meeting.)
- Search out compatible people. Even if you’ve got some unusual interests and views, you can always find kindred spirits. Find a fellow music lover who will share their love for a top artist or an outdoors enthusiast to exchange adventure stories with.
- Provide background information. People will be more receptive to unfamiliar subjects if you start at the beginning. Growing up in the South, I learned people will also open up when you do. Fill in the facts so it’s easier to follow what you’re talking about. And listen to them for their top points. It’s magic.
- Open up your body language. A smile, friendly gestures and confident eye contact make you appear more likable and interesting. Stand up straight, pull your shoulders back and uncross your arms. In fact, stand as if a wire is holding you up from the crown of your head. Everything else will then fall into place and look natural.
- Speak clearly. Slow down and articulate your words. Everything sounds better when you avoid mumbling. Holding your head up automatically makes you sound more energetic and warm.
- Amp up your vocab. Increase your word power because the more expansive your vocabulary, the easier it is to select the precise words to convey your message. You’ll also make a better impression, sound more persuasive, garner more respect and likely earn more money. Simply put, you’ll AMAZE yourself. Best program I’ve found (with words we actually would use) is Executive Vocabulary (blue cover). Email me if you can’t find it. Definitely worth it.
More Challenging Methods for Improving Your Conversation Skills
- Cherish others. People will be more receptive to anything you’ve got to say if they sense you take a sincere (key word!) interest in them and want to help them. Remind yourself of all YOU have to be grateful for. Look for opportunities to extend positive feelings you hold about your loved ones to a broader circle of acquaintances. Pay it forward. Live the Abundance Mentality (see Covey’s definition) and watch great things come your way.
- Nourish your self-esteem. Know that you matter and you have worthwhile things to contribute. Remind yourself of your accomplishments and take strategic risks when it comes to speaking your mind.
- Express your emotions. Be honest with yourself about your true feelings so you can talk about them in a constructive manner. This is another blessing from being raised in the candid South in a large family run by an Italian mother. We shared feelings. And we learned that discussing conflicts directly and tactfully prevents them from building up. Your example may give others the freedom to disclose more, too.
- Focus on the present moment. Engage fully in what you’re doing. My kids have taught me to live in the moment and focus on the now. When you’re with others, set aside distractions (phones, devices) so you can give people your full attention. (In fact, more than once, I’ve had coworkers texting IN meetings WITH clients sitting RIGHT ACROSS the table from them. It was disconcerting to everyone, rude to the client – who’s paying the bills – and ultra-obvious to everyone…except the texter.)
- Lead a meaningful life. Commit yourself to lifelong learning, use your leisure time well and do good for others. One of my mentors, Bruce Jensen, told me that in grad school, he would even make the most of the minutes waiting at the bus stop for his ride. Amazing dedication. And someone who is constantly learning, creating and inspiring. Be like that and, trust me, you’ll be at that level, too. Along the way, you’ll even have more to talk about.
- Practice consistently. Like everything else, conversation skills improve the more you use them. Brush up on small talk with the cashier at the store, other customers at the café, food servers and the mail carrier. Those small tasks will better prepare for your next job interview or for having dinner with your growing network of associates.
Some of these suggestions are easy to use and others will require significant effort. They’re all worthwhile, though. Making conversations sparkle will help you to share more of yourself with others, deepen your friendships and make the world around you richer with memories.