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How to be a Brilliant Conversationalist

How to be a Brilliant Conversationalist

You probably shy away from some people on social occasions. Their conversations are tedious. You groan inwardly when they approach for you know that they are unremittingly dull company. Equally you may be fortunate enough to know some brilliant conversationalists who can enliven any discussion and who are excellent company whatever the circumstances. In what category would other people place you? How can you improve your conversational skills to become a welcome sight at every party and social event you attend? Here are some pointers that might help.

Ask Questions

Most people prefer to talk about themselves rather than hear about you, so asking questions is a great way to start and to refresh conversations. If you meet someone for the first time, start by asking simple, non-threatening questions about them, what they do, where they live etc. If you know someone moderately well then you should be aware of some of their interests so simple questions about those are good ways to start. As you get to know people better you can ask more searching and interesting questions. For example, ‘What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced in your life?’ or, ‘What is your greatest ambition?’

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In a group similar considerations apply. You should generally start new conversations by throwing out questions rather than making statements or talking about things you have done. By asking questions you draw other people in and engage them. It is said that small minds talk about people, moderate minds talk about events and great minds talk about ideas. By all means start the conversation with some small talk but once it is going be prepared to introduce some questions relating to issues and ideas. We will discuss where to get the ideas shortly. Obviously you have to judge the nature of the group first so it is important to follow the second rule.

Listen

Great conversationalists are great listeners. Whether you are with one person or a group listen attentively. People like good listeners – wouldn’t you rather speak with someone who was interested in what you had to say rather than someone who looked bored and indifferent? Also, when you listen you learn. When you are speaking you are not learning anything new. Make a conscious effort to focus on what people say. Show that you are interested by asking questions that support and develop the conversation; ‘What do you mean exactly?’, ‘What happened next?’, ‘How did you feel about that?’

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As you listen in a group, observe how people are reacting to the conversation. Are they engaged or ready for a change of topic? Is it time to move up from small talk to something more serious or time to lighten the mood with some humour? By listening and observing you can time your contribution to bolster the current conversation or move it forward to something new and interesting.

Give Compliments

Pay compliments whenever you sincerely can. If someone looks smart or has lost weight or has a stylish new haircut then show that you have noticed by giving a genuine compliment. ‘That colour really suits you.’ ‘You are looking very trim today.’ If they tell you about some achievement – say at work or by one of their children then congratulate them. As a matter of general courtesy and good manners you should always thank and compliment your host. Tell them what a great success the event is and how much you are enjoying it. Pick on some detail that they have chosen for the occasion that you like and tell them how well it has worked or how much you like it.

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Keep up to date on topical issues

It is important to keep abreast of key current issues and topics in the news, entertainment, sports and politics. You should be ready to comment with questions, ideas, facts and opinions on the issues that other people are interested in. So see a few of the latest movies, read some of the most popular fiction and non-fiction, read the newspapers, watch the news, keep up with some major sports stories and watch some TV – but not too much. You do not need to slavishly follow every soap but if someone asks you what are your favourite TV programmes then you should be able to list some popular and serious programmes and justify what it is you like about them.

When discussing serious topics be prepared to oppose the conventional view and to take a rather provocative stance – even just for the sake of doing so. This will lead to a more interesting conversation than if you just agree with what is said. For example if everyone is against some political leader, then come to their defence with examples of strengths or achievements. Make your points with conviction, evidence and, if possible, humour. But in a social environment be careful not to become belligerent or cantankerous. In general it is best to avoid really sensitive or controversial topics especially if they risk offending people’s personal feelings.

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Be Humorous

There is a place for serious discussion and there is a place for the light-hearted, so be ready to contribute in either environment. Witty comments tend to be spontaneous, clever and unexpected so being witty is not an easy skill to develop but there are some things you can do. Observe witty people in action and see how they contribute. Be bold enough to add your comments and witticisms and carefully watch reactions to see whether you are hitting the right note. Have a stock of funny stories. Do not force them into the conversation but have them ready when you get the cue or when there is a lull. Personal anecdotes relating to unusual experiences and misfortunes that befell you often go down well. Develop and practice some self-deprecating stories. Jokes, quotes and other people’s witty remarks can also be used sparingly and with acknowledgement. But beware of smutty or offensive stories in mixed company. Laugh at other people’s funny stories, even if you have heard them before, but never give away someone else’s punch line.

Speak Clearly

Say what you have to say with clarity and enthusiasm. Many people mumble their words, or rush through them or whisper so quietly that you have to strain to hear them. Good conversationalists are clear, articulate and easy to understand. They use interesting metaphors and visual images. Keep your sentences short and to the point. Don’t hog the floor. When you have made your point pass the conversation on by letting others speak. If there is a pause then draw someone in with a question.

Enjoy it

Be yourself, be natural and don’t try to be anything that you are not. Approach the situation with a positive attitude and tell yourself that you are going to have a good time and meet some interesting people. Relax, smile and enjoy the occasion. People prefer to mix with the happy and good-natured rather than the grumpy and miserable. By all means have a couple of drinks but not too many or you risk undoing all your good work!

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Paul Sloane

Professional Keynote Speaker, Author, Innovation Expert

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Last Updated on March 14, 2019

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

7 Questions to Ask in a Job Interview That Will Impress the Interviewer

Recruiters might hold thousands of interviews in their careers and a lot of them are reporting the same thing—that most candidates play it safe with the questions they ask, or have no questions to ask in a job interview at all.

For job applicants, this approach is crazy! This is a job that you’re going to dedicate a lot of hours to and that might have a huge impact on your future career. Don’t throw away the chance to figure out if the position is perfect for you.

Here are 7 killer questions to ask in a job interview that will both impress your counterpart and give you some really useful insights into whether this job will be a dream … or a nightmare.

1. What are some challenges I might come up against this role?

A lesser candidate might ask, “what does a typical day look like in this role?” While this is a perfectly reasonable question to ask in an interview, focusing on potential challenges takes you much further because it indicates that you already are visualizing yourself in the role.

It’s impressive because it shows that you are not afraid of challenges, and you are prepared to strategize a game plan upfront to make sure you succeed if you get the job.

It can also open up a conversation about how you’ve solved problems in the past which can be a reassuring exercise for both you and the hiring manager.

How it helps you:

If you ask the interviewer to describe a typical day, you may get a vibrant picture of all the lovely things you’ll get to do in this job and all the lovely people you’ll get to do them with.

Asking about potential roadblocks means you hear the other side of the story—dysfunctional teams, internal politics, difficult clients, bootstrap budgets and so on. This can help you decide if you’re up for the challenge or whether, for the sake of your sanity, you should respectfully decline the job offer.

2. What are the qualities of really successful people in this role?

Employers don’t want to hire someone who goes through the motions; they want to hire someone who will excel.

Asking this question shows that you care about success, too. How could they not hire you with a dragon-slayer attitude like that?

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How it helps you:

Interviewers hire people who are great people to work with, but the definition of “great people” differs from person to person.

Does this company hire and promote people with a specific attitude, approach, worth ethic or communication style? Are the most successful people in this role strong extroverts who love to talk and socialize when you are studious and reserved? Does the company reward those who work insane hours when you’re happiest in a more relaxed environment?

If so, then this may not be the right match for you.

Whatever the answer is, you can decide whether you have what it takes for the manager to be happy with your performance in this role. And if the interviewer has no idea what success looks like for this position, this is a sign to proceed with extreme caution.

3. From the research I did on your company, I noticed the culture really supports XYZ. Can you tell me more about that element of the culture and how it impacts this job role?

Of course, you could just ask “what is the culture like here? ” but then you would miss a great opportunity to show that you’ve done your research!

Interviewers give BIG bonus point to those who read up and pay attention, and you’ve just pointed out that (a) you’re diligent in your research (b) you care about the company culture and (c) you’re committed to finding a great cultural fit.

How it helps you:

This question is so useful because it lets you pick an element of the culture that you really care about and that will have the most impact on whether you are happy with the organization.

For example, if training and development is important to you, then you need to know what’s on offer so you don’t end up in a dead-end job with no learning opportunities.

Companies often talk a good talk, and their press releases may be full of shiny CSR initiatives and all the headline-grabbing diversity programs they’re putting in place. This is your opportunity to look under the hood and see if the company lives its values on the ground.

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A company that says it is committed to doing the right thing by customers should not judge success by the number of up-sells an employee makes, for instance. Look for consistency, so you aren’t in for a culture shock after you start.

4. What is the promotion path for this role, and how would my performance on that path be measured?

To be clear, you are not asking when you will get promoted. Don’t go there—it’s presumptuous, and it indicates that you think you are better than the role you have applied for.

A career-minded candidate, on the other hand, usually has a plan that she’s working towards. This question shows you have a great drive toward growth and advancement and an intention to stick with the company beyond your current state.

How it helps you:

One word: hierarchy.

All organizations have levels of work and authority—executives, upper managers, line managers, the workforce, and so on. Understanding the hierarchical structure gives you power, because you can decide if you can work within it and are capable of climbing through its ranks, or whether it will be endlessly frustrating to you.

In a traditional pyramid hierarchy, for example, the people at the bottom tend to have very little autonomy to make decisions. This gets better as you rise up through the pyramid, but even middle managers have little power to create policy; they are more concerned with enforcing the rules the top leaders make.

If having a high degree of autonomy and accountability is important to you, you may do better in a flat hierarchy where work teams can design their own way of achieving the corporate goals.

5. What’s the most important thing the successful candidate could accomplish in their first 3 months/6 months/year?

Of all the questions to ask in a job interview, this one is impressive because it shows that you identify with and want to be a successful performer, and not just an average one.

Here, you’re drilling down into what the company needs, and needs quite urgently, proving that you’re all about adding value to the organization and not just about what’s in it for you.

How it helps you:

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Most job descriptions come with 8, 10 or 12 different job responsibilities and a lot of them with be boilerplate or responsibilities that someone in HR thinks are associated with this role. This question gives you a better sense of which responsibilities are the most important—and they may not be what initially attracted you to the role.

If you like the idea of training juniors, for example, but success is judged purely on your sales figures, then is this really the job you thought you were applying for?

This question will also give you an idea of what kind of learning curve you’re expected to have and whether you’ll get any ramp-up time before getting down to business. If you’re the type of person who likes to jump right in and get things done, for instance, you may not be thrilled to hear that you’re going to spend the first three months shadowing a peer.

6. What do you like about working here?

This simple question is all about building rapport with the interviewer. People like to talk about themselves, and the interviewer will be flattered that you’re interested in her opinions.

Hopefully, you’ll find some great connection points that the two of you share. What similar things drive you head into the office each day? How will you fit into the culture?

How it helps you:

You can learn a lot from this question. Someone who genuinely enjoys his job will be able to list several things they like, and their answers will sound passionate and sincere. If not….well, you might consider that a red flag.

Since you potentially can learn a lot about the company culture from this question, it’s a good idea to figure out upfront what’s important to you. Maybe you’re looking for a hands-off boss who values independent thought and creativity? Maybe you work better in environments that move at a rapid, exciting pace?

Whatever’s important to you, listen carefully and see if you can find any common ground.

7. Based on this interview, do you have any questions or concerns about my qualifications for the role?

What a great closing question to ask in a job interview! It shows that you’re not afraid of feedback—in fact, you are inviting it. Not being able to take criticism is a red flag for employers, who need to know that you’ll act on any “coaching moments” with a good heart.

As a bonus, asking this question shows that you are really interested in the position and wish to clear up anything that may be holding the company back from hiring you.

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How it helps you:

What a devious beast this question is! On the surface, it looks straightforward, but it’s actually giving you four key pieces of information.

First, is the manager capable of giving you feedback when put on the spot like this? Some managers are scared of giving feedback, or don’t think it’s important enough to bother outside of a formal performance appraisal. Do you want to work for a boss like that? How will you improve if no one is telling you what you did wrong?

Second, can the manager give feedback in a constructive way without being too pillowy or too confrontational? It’s unfair to expect the interviewer to have figured out your preferred way of receiving feedback in the space of an interview, but if she come back with a machine-gun fire of shortcomings or one of those corporate feedback “sandwiches” (the doozy slipped between two slices of compliment), then you need to ask yourself, can you work with someone who gives feedback like that?

Third, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about before you leave the interview. This gives you the chance to make a final, tailored sales pitch so you can convince the interviewer that she should not be worried about those things.

Fourth, you get to learn the things the hiring manager is concerned about period. If turnover is keeping him up at night, then your frequent job hopping might get a lot of additional scrutiny. If he’s facing some issues with conflict or communication, then he might raise concerns regarding your performance in this area.

Listen carefully: the concerns that are being raised about you might actually be a proxy for problems in the wider organization.

Making Your Interview Work for You

Interviews are a two-way street. While it is important to differentiate yourself from every other candidate, understand that convincing the interviewer you’re the right person for the role goes hand-in-hand with figuring out if the job is the right fit for you.

Would you feel happy in a work environment where the people, priorities, culture and management style were completely at odds with the way you work? Didn’t think so!

More Resources About Job Interviews

Featured photo credit: Amy Hirschi via unsplash.com

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