Learn The Art Of Conversation

Learn the art of conversation and how to improve your chatting style.

Everybody's found themselves trapped in that familiar social horror: being faced with a complete stranger and wanting more than anything to break the silence which stretches out awkwardly between you. In these situations, you need some sure-fire fallbacks guaranteed to break the ice and start a conversation.

Bring your own conversation piece

If you're heading off to a party or get-together where you suspect that you won't know a lot of the other guests, it's a good idea to bring something with you that is highly likely to be a good conversation piece. If you're a hat person, choose one that has a great story that goes with it (or make one up on the way) and be prepared to tell people about it when they ask. Or wear an unusual accessory or piece of jewelry that will catch people's attention and compel them to ask you about it. If you're bringing a gift to a party, add an eye-catching flourish to the wrapping, which will stimulate some other creative soul to ask you about your original wrapping technique, or about the nature of the gift. Conversation pieces provide a non-threatening way to start a conversation.

Effectively, you're giving people an excuse to come and talk to you, by making yourself appear approachable and interesting because there's something about you that is an obvious talking point. You don't want to arrive looking bland and exactly like everyone else; you're trying to stimulate discussion, not a reaction of bored disinterest.

Look around you for cues

Wherever you find yourself in the midst of this social challenge, check out your environment. There must be something there which can trigger a conversation with the stranger standing next to you. Is there something striking about the decor, an interesting book in plain view, a fascinating print or photograph on the wall?

If you find yourself in the kitchen, you have an endless supply of conversation starters all around you - particular cooking equipment or an extensive spice supply can kick off a culinary conversation or a restaurant disaster story that is a natural and friendly ice-breaker.

If you're in a place that is devoid of viable visual cues, use the food or drinks as a starting point. But avoid the "Isn't the chicken great?" approach - this can only elicit a yes/no response, and you're looking to develop a dialogue. Try "wow, this chicken reminds me of a dish I ate on my very first date" - create an interesting scenario that draws the other person in, and stimulates them to ask you questions in return. Anyone with even the most rudimentary social skills will take your cue in this situation and ask you a variety of questions in return, such as: "Oh, really? What happened? How long did you date? Where was this? How old were you?" Any of these questions lead straight into a full-blown dialogue.

What's your body language saying?

Pay attention to the messages you're sending out with your body. Are you frowning at the room in general with folded arms? Are you standing rigidly with a pasted-on smile, looking like you're frozen to the spot? If so, you're sending out very clear signals which warn people to steer clear of you because you're just not interested in engaging with them.

Take a deep breath, unclench your fists, relax your body and smile broadly. Move around the room, starting with the most approachable people. Make sure that your body language states that you are interested and relaxed and here to meet people. Make plenty of eye contact as you smile - these are the keys to making a stranger feel relaxed and welcome as they approach you. Positive body language substantially reduces the risk of rejection when mingling with strangers - if you're relaxed and smiling, even shy people are more likely to feel comfortable enough to come right up and start chatting.

Polish up your conversational style

If you're not sure about the interests of the people you're about to meet, it's not a bad idea to take a quick look at the nightly news before you head off to the party. General knowledge and a working understanding of breaking news issues provide great conversation starters when all else fails. If you haven't had time to stay up to date on current affairs, some knowledge of the latest celebrity gossip can also stand you in good stead. A piece of silly or sensationalist scandal can break the ice with a like-minded person who is also bored to death by the heavy political discussion going on all around you.

If you're going to a professional function which represents a networking opportunity handed to you on a plate, it's worth your while doing a little research into the industry as a whole. Learn just a handful of buzzwords so that you can communicate with the other guests in the same language. In a situation like this, it's easy to prepare five or six conversation starters which are industry-specific, and convey the impression that you are an insider.

These techniques of striking up a conversation with a stranger are solid proof that there is no need to dread this social task. By throwing out plenty of conversational lines and asking open-ended and appropriate questions, you will find that the art of conversation is easier than it sometimes seems.

© High Speed Ventures 2011