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The 12 Golden Rules of Great Conversation: Part 2

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The 12 Golden Rules of Great Conversation: Part 2

This is a continuation of the 2 part series “The 12 Golden Rules of Great Conversation.

7. Great playfulness

What do all great conversationalists have in common? They know how to play with the conversation. They can make their conversation fun. They do not take everything literally or seriously.

If you are with a friend, and you get up to use the restroom, and they ask you, “where are you going?” You don’t always have to respond, “To the restroom.”

Instead, you could say something less predictable and more playful, like, “it’s a secret…” or a sarcastic “I’m leaving, I’m sick of your attitude” or “who wants to know?” or “I’m going to go buy that girl a drink…not really, I’m not that cool.”

Introducing play to a conversation opens the door for them to play along. For example, you might tell your spouse, “I’m going for a run…I’ll be back soon…” and if you add a fanciful hypothetical like, “unless I collapse from heat exhaustion…” or “unless I get attacked by stray dogs,” it becomes playful.

This opens the door for them to play along with something like, “Okay…just in case, how much is your life insurance policy worth again?” or “If I don’t see you back in 20 minutes then I’ll call the search and rescue team to come find you.”

Great conversationalists don’t always speak in literal terms such as, “the printer isn’t working well today.”  Instead, they may apply a fun metaphor, like, “The printer is being temperamental today” or “I’m currently fighting a battle with the printer… and the printer is winning. I might need reinforcements…”

8. Great interest in them

This is one of the easiest paths to great conversation (but many people don’t seem to take it very seriously). It goes beyond just listening to their long story about the time they outran a grizzly bear in Virginia. It’s about asking follow up questions. It’s about making comments about the events that they are describing. It’s about giving them attention and allowing the conversation to center on them and their interests. Be excited for them when they tell you that they just received a promotion. Sympathize with them when they tell you that they just lost their wallet.  Be interested in what is happening in their life.

As the great Dale Carnegie once said,

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“The best way to be likeable is to be interested in the other person.”

9. Great questions

What’s the secret to maintaining a conversation?

Ask great questions.

Great questions are not always literal and information-seeking. If you’re out to lunch with your friend and ask, “How’s your job going?” – that’s a basic information-seeking question, and you’ll probably receive a basic answer such as, “It’s good.” Upgrade your conversation by thinking outside the box and taking a fun approach, like, “Have they made you CEO yet?” or “Is your boss still keeping you in that hamster cage?” These questions may appear playful on the surface, but they can still contain real inquiries about real topics.

The literal questions can steer a conversation to different topics, but the fun questions can keep the conversation playful and entertaining. Fun questions are often rhetorical in nature and don’t always seek a genuine response. They are meant to introduce playfulness to the conversation so it doesn’t become stuck in serious-land.

Maybe you see a coworker coming out of the building with a computer monitor. Instead of a literal, “What are you doing with that?” you could ask a playful hypothetical question, “Stealing office equipment again, huh?” Now that you’ve introduced a playful element, they may play along, with something to extent of, “You caught me!…hey are you looking for a monitor? 10 bucks and it’s yours!”

10. Great responses

Great conversation is like a great tennis match. If someone asks a poor conversationalist how their weekend was, they often reply with, “It was good.”

Merely answering a question is not enough for great conversation. After answering, it’s your turn to hit the tennis ball back so the conversation can keep going. Offer your tennis partner something to play with (something to respond to). After saying, “it was good,” provide a reason why it was good, offer an example or share a story. Talk about how you feel about it. Then even ask a question back.

It’s also important to match their energy. Did they just have a baby? Share in their joy! Act excited, ask them follow up questions.

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Great responses are sometimes playful. Maybe they complain to you, “My fingers are so cold…” And you could respond with something boring like, “that’s too bad.” Or you could offer something playful,

“You’re always cold. Maybe it’s a medical condition. I think your blood vessels actually stop at your wrists and don’t go up into your fingers.”

and then they may play back,

“Maybe you’re right. That’s why my fingers are always blue. I should probably get checked out.”

11. Great stories

It’s not easy to entertain groups of people with interesting stories. The good news is that stories don’t have to be Pulitzer-Prize worthy for your listeners to enjoy them. In fact, some of the best stories are simple stories about every day events that may describe a unique twist or occurrence.

Stories do not need to be elaborate and long. Did your pet dog accidently nibble on your new shoes? Did your toddler throw up at the grocery store? These events can make great stories, and most stories can be squeezed into 30 seconds.

Great stories have some common characteristics. Make it a goal to include some or all of these story parts in your next story:

Setup: For example, “That reminds me, I was just at that store two days ago and I saw the strangest thing.”

Contrast against what normally occurs:  “I was watching this movie and I figured it was just going to be some boring “chick-flick”, but…”

or

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“…and normally they would just get up and leave, but this time they…”

Details:  Details add color and imagery to any story. Instead of, “and some girl bumped into me…”

try

“and some heroin-addict looking girl bumped into me…”

Dialogue: Always add dialogue when you can. It’s easy and entertaining. “I was like, ‘When is this party going to end? This guy is so creepy!”

Reaction:  “He bought me lunch… and I was stunned, I couldn’t believe it!”

Turning Point: Great stories have turning points, like, “It was that moment where I felt…”

Post Commentary: Don’t forget to comment about your story, “If it wasn’t for Joe, I don’t know where we’d be right now! Probably stuck in a ditch somewhere.”

Limiting your story to 20 – 30 seconds may not seem like much time, but if they want to hear more, they will let you know!

12. Great initiative

Great conversation can only occur when at least two people are taking initiative. One sided conversations are never “great.” Simply responding to someone talking with, “oh yeah,” or “that’s neat,” or “I like it too,” is not a great conversation.

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State your opinions more often. “Wow, she needs to put down the mascara,” or “This is my favorite Italian restaurant of all time,” or “You look kind of like a homeless man today.”

It also helps to add some superlative or definitive statements as well. They are simply more interesting than wishy-washy, passive statements. For example:

“That’s the best coffee I’ve ever had…I can’t believe it’s so cheap.”

“Easily one of the top five movies I’ve seen this year.”

“I always read XYZ, it’s the only magazine that I fully trust.”

And when you can, go beyond just stating your opinion. Add support. Add some commentary. For example:

Opinion: “I’m excited to try this place.”

Support: “I’ve heard great things. I actually haven’t had Italian in a long time. I’ve been on a Chinese kick lately.”

Commentary: “I actually think my kitchen is starting to permanently smell like Chinese food!”

Conclusion

It’s important to remember that developing conversation skills is a lifelong journey. If you always aim to be perfect, you will lose out on the most important rule of them all; have fun.

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(Photo credit: Conversation courtesy of Shutterstock)

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

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How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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