No matter how shy or social you may be, there comes a point in every conversation with a new acquaintance where you draw blank. The back and forth may stall, or maybe you’ve started in on a subject you don’t know much about. Instead of having a panic attack and trying to think up a quick excuse to walk away, here are ten practical tips to keep a conversation going.
Make sure you actually want to socialize. Or, if you don’t–for example, if it’s for a work or family function–then at least be a good actor! Be interested in the conversation you’re having, as well as the person you’re having it with. If you don’t seem interested (even if you are), then they won’t want to keep talking to you.
You can appear interested simply by asking questions. When someone brings up a topic, ask questions about it. This will not only show your interest and desire to learn more, it will keep the conversation going because your conversation partner will keep talking. If you’re unfamiliar with the topic of discussion, this will give you a chance to learn more, and then you’ll be able to participate in the conversation more.
You can’t just ask questions to keep a conversation going. You have to listen to the answers, too. You have to take in the information the other person is giving you and remember it, or else you’ll keep talking in a circle by asking the same questions over and over.
Maintaining eye contact is another good way to let the other person know you’re interested in the conversation. If you keep looking at other things around you, then you’ll appear distracted and uninterested in the conversation–even if you’re asking questions and keeping a good back and forth going! Looking directly at the person shows them that you’re focused only on them and the conversation at hand, not anything going on around you, and not anything else going on in your own head.
This doesn’t mean you have index cards with subjects on them, like you might have back in 7th grade, making that first nerve-wracking phone call to your crush. It just means you have topics in your mind that you’d like to discuss. Maybe it’s some current events that you’d like to hear others’ opinions on, or changes you’d like to make in your own life that the other person might have some knowledge about. Having a list of topics doesn’t have to be a physical list, but keeping a mental list will keep you from coming up blank when it’s your turn to change the subject.
When you find something you both have in common, it’s a good idea to stretch that thread into a longer conversation! You can find common ground during the course of the discussion, or you might be introduced by someone who already knows what you two have in common, and works it into the introduction.
This doesn’t mean you need to blurt out, “I hate your accent” or, “those shoes don’t match your pants.” Look at people around you who seem to have no trouble keeping a conversation going. What do you notice about them? They have no trouble talking because they’re uninhibited! They don’t worry if what they’re going to say next makes them sound stupid–they say what they’re thinking! You should do the same. It doesn’t mean you need to mention every silly thing that pops into your head, ranging from items on your To Do list to the weather this week. It just means they’re not over-thinking the conversation. They’re not trying to figure out if this topic is interesting enough to bring up. They simply bring it up and seeing how the conversation goes!
Conversation threading is when the other person says a statement that has many different parts you can pick up on and continue the discussion from. An example is when someone says, “last week, I traveled to Alaska for my job.” You could pick up on travel in general, and share some of your own stories, or ask questions about Alaska and what it’s like there, or start talking about the person’s job. You could ask where they work, how often they travel, or share if you travel for work or would like to. There are many different ways the conversation could go from that sentence alone, so listen for statements like that. It will help you direct where the conversation goes with your follow-up questions, instead of being led to a monologue you care nothing about.
It sounds silly, but it’s true. Practice is important in all things, and conversation is no exception! You can practice keeping a conversation going with a friend, family member, or the clerk at the grocery store. You can even practice all of these skills in online chats (except eye contact, unless you’re using a webcam!).
This is the clincher–literally! If your conversation is going well, it might be hard to know when to end it. You don’t want to interrupt the other person, but you don’t want the connection to run its course. It’s easier to end too early and want to talk to the person again, than to bore them by letting the conversation go too long. It’s hard to know how to stop a conversation, but you should always make it positive. Let the person know you want to talk to them again, and make sure you know how to get in touch with each other.
Featured photo credit: Carlos Magariños via flickr.com
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