Does the idea of being in a room full of strangers make you break out in a sweat? Do you find yourself scripting out conversation points when you go on first dates? Are job interviews a trial that you wish you could eliminate from the rest of your life?
Knowing how to talk to people is a good skill to have, but it’s a skill some of us have to practice a little more than others. With the right tips, however, you can learn how to hold a great conversation. And at VP Legacies, we know the value of Personal Connection®, whether it’s virtual or in person. Read on to discover our tips and tricks for connecting better by talking to people.
Why Talking to People Is Important
If you struggle with conversations, you may wonder why this is a skill you need to develop at all. But being able to hold a strong conversation can impact every area of your life. It can help you build Personal Connection®, find success in your career, and learn more about a wide variety of subjects.
In spite of the digital revolution, our world still operates on conversations. From job interviews to first dates, being able to connect to people will help you to find better things in life. You may also find more happiness since connection is what gives meaning to our lives.
What Makes a Good First Impression?
When you’re trying to strike up a conversation with someone, one of the best things you can do is make a good first impression. Start with your body language. Make sure you make eye contact with the person you’re talking to and give a nice, firm handshake.
From there, the best thing you can be is confident. Stand up straight, smile, and keep your shoulders relaxed. The more comfortable you act, the more comfortable you’ll feel and the better the impression you’ll make on your conversation partner.
Don’t Try to Impress
While you do want to try to make a good impression on the person you’re talking with, you don’t want to try to impress. This may sound confusing, but it’s a question of authenticity. You want to put your best foot forward in a conversation, but you want to still make sure you’re being yourself.
When you’re putting on a front to try to impress, people can tell. Instead of trying to be impressive or interesting, focus on being curious. That genuine interest in what the other person is saying will make you more impressive to them than any story about how you once hosted the president of a foreign country for dinner ever could.
Most Common Conversational Pitfalls
One of the biggest mistakes many people make in a conversation is not listening. Instead of paying attention to what the other person is saying, we think about how we’re going to respond. Focus on being an active listener and take a few moments to gather your thoughts before you respond instead.
If you’re nervous, you may also be talking too fast. This makes your conversation partner uncomfortable and can set the whole interaction on the wrong foot. Focus on slowing down your talking and relaxing the muscles in your neck, keeping the conversation on a lower key.
Starting the conversation off with the right greeting is another way to make sure you get things off on the right foot. Make sure you tailor your greeting to the situation you’re in. If you’re at a conference, a handshake and a, “My name is Dr. Smith, how are you?” might be appropriate; at a bar, not so much.
In more informal situations, it may be a good idea to greet the person you want to talk to with a compliment. If they seem open to continuing to talk after the initial, “Thank you,” you’ve got an opening to ask them a question about themselves. If they don’t seem interested, you can walk away with no harm done.
It’s important to show your conversation partner that you’re interested in what they’re talking about. Ask them questions about what they’re saying. People love to talk about themselves, so make sure you’re giving your conversation partner plenty of opportunities to do so.
When you’re asking questions, try to ask open-ended questions rather than ones that have yes or no answers. Yes/no questions tend to shut a conversation down rather than opening new lines of discussion. So instead of asking, “Did you like that restaurant?” ask, “What did you think of that restaurant?”
Try to Learn Something
One great way to make sure you always have engaging conversations is to make it your goal to learn something from every conversation. This can be something as huge as a piece of moral philosophy or as small as the right way to boil an egg. But trying to focus on learning something from every conversation can help you keep your attention on gaining information, rather than giving it.
Every person has a unique life experience and set of talents. Talking to people with the aim of learning something from them will help you to become a more well-rounded person. And that genuine interest will shine through and make you someone people want to talk to.
Another conversation trick to keep things moving and stay engaged in your conversation is to rephrase what the other person just said. This shows them that you’re engaged and gives you an opportunity to learn a little more about the topic at hand. This can be an especially good trick if you find yourself in a conversation about a subject you don’t know much about.
Start these rephrases with things like, “So if I understand you correctly…” and “So you’re saying that…” This gives the other person a chance to expand on and clarify whatever it is they just said. Try to use the last three or four words they just said as a way to mirror them and encourage them to keep talking.
Use Non-Verbal Responses
You’ve probably heard before that the majority of our communication happens through body language. You’re dialed into these cues whether you realize it or not. But being more aware of them during a conversation can help you to better communicate with people.
Keep an eye on your conversation partner’s body language for cues that they may be uncomfortable. Maybe they’re ready to end the conversation or change the subject. If they start glancing away, crossing their arms, or touching their face, it may be time to move on from that conversation.
Trying to connect with new people can be tricky, especially since you may not know what to talk about. You’ve just met this person, so how do you know what they like to talk about? One great trick is to look for similarities; this will give you good conversation fodder and help you connect with that person.
If you’re at a themed event or a conference, finding similarities to talk about is easy. If you’re not at such an event, look for clues about interests the two of you might share. A t-shirt from a band you like or a piece of jewelry from your favorite TV show can give you a great conversation starter.
Pick the Right Topics
It’s very important when you’re starting a conversation with someone to pick the right topic. You need to make sure it’s something they’ll be comfortable talking about and something appropriate to the venue you’re in. You also need to make sure you pick a conversation topic that will carry the discussion for a while.
When in doubt, choose a conversation you know the other person is an expert on. Not only does this give them a chance to talk about something they love, but it also gives you a chance to ask lots of questions. You may be able to get some advice from the conversation, too.
It’s a universal truth that people like hearing nice things about ourselves. It makes us feel good, and in a conversation, those good feelings can be a great way to help you connect better. So as appropriate, give your conversation partner compliments.
Be sure to tailor those compliments to be appropriate for the setting you’re in. For instance, if you’re at a professional conference, telling a woman she looks hot is not acceptable. However, telling her that you appreciated her stance on ethical oversight in the internet age is a great way to keep the conversation moving along well.
Maya Angelou once said, “People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel.”
As much as you can, try to create emotion during your conversation. The conversations we remember the most fondly are the ones where we were fully engaged, excited about the topic and overjoyed to have found someone to share the conversation with. Be vulnerable with your own emotions and it will encourage the people you’re talking with to open up about their emotions, forging an even deeper Personal Connection®.
It’s also important when you’re trying to connect with someone to empathize with them. People like to be seen and heard; it’s part of the Personal Connection® we seek in conversation. Empathetic listening can make a person feel safe and heard and can help the conversation flow more easily.
When you’re talking to someone, don’t be in a rush to finish the conversation and move on to the next thing. Be present, and offer the person space to share their experience. It may be tempting to bring in your own experiences to show that you know how they feel, but focus instead on asking them open-ended questions.
Related: Why Empathy in the Workplace Matters
Use Open Gestures
You also need to make sure that your body language is giving off the right vibes to your conversation partner. Make sure that you’re standing up straight and keeping an open posture. Maintain eye contact, smile when appropriate, and try to avoid touching your face.
Make sure you’re also making an effort to slow down your speech. When we aren’t thinking about it, our words can come out in a rushed jumble. Taking the time to articulate your words will not only make you easier to understand, it will also make you seem more engaged in the conversation.
And, of course, no conversation is complete without its end, and the end of your conversation should leave as good an impression as the beginning. Bowing out gracefully will make that person more inclined to talk to you more in the future. The key to a thoughtful goodbye is the timing.
Keep an eye on the other person’s body language, and be aware of when the conversation is coming to a natural close. If appropriate, thank the person for their time and tell them you enjoyed the conversation. You might want to arrange some way for you two to get in contact in the future, and then wish them a pleasant day and take your leave.
Learn How to Talk to People
Learning how to talk to people is a skill that takes a lot of practice. Remember to listen, and try to learn something from every conversation. Pay attention to your partner’s body language, pick a subject you know they know about, and always ask open-ended questions.
If you’d like to learn how to use personal connections to improve your life, find out more about our Personal Connection® 101 eLearning course. We provide resources for you to connect with people across both personal and professional settings. Learn how to make the most of the relationships in your life and build a Personal Connection® with anyone. You’ll learn that the art of talking to people isn’t just about knowing what to say, but about finding ways to engage deeply. By gaining access to our entire course library, you’ll learn ways to master the art of conversation in order to build more fulfilling relationships.