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Center: Sydney & Singapore
Date: 20 June 2022
The Art of Conversation
It is natural to feel nervous in a new situation. Walking into a room full of people without knowing a soul can be a daunting task, but is important to realize that almost everyone is nervous when facing a room full of strangers. The approach of the first day at school or a party where you won’t know anyone can be made easier if you know what to do. Developing a bag of tricks can help get you through some of those tough situations.
To begin, set a goal for yourself. For example, you can decide that at the end of this school day, or by the end of this party, you will have spoken to at least three new people or will have had a conversation with at least one new person. Remember, these don’t have to be make-it-or-break-it conversations. Simple exchanges of a few remarks will suffice.
Now, how do you get started? Just walking into a room full of strangers is intimidating for most people. In fact, most people feel off-balance entering a room where everyone is talking a mile a minute or seems to know someone else. If you take a minute to get your bearings, however, you will inevitably find another lone soul looking as nervous as you feel. Go up to that person and introduce yourself. You will almost always be rewarded with a sigh of relief and a smile. Remember, others are in the same boat as you are.
Beginning a conversation is not that hard. Expert conversationalists say it is all right to open with a cliche. Don’t worry about sounding dull. Cliches are good for starting conversations because everyone can relate to them. What do you mean by a cliche? The weather, movies, sports, or other universal topics are of interest to everyone. If you are in a classroom, you can talk about the course or the school. If you are at a party, talk about how you know the host or hostess.
Asking questions is a great way to keep a conversation going, but it is important to ask the right kind of questions. Asking a ‘yes or no question’ can stop a conversation dead in its tracks. ‘WH-questions’ prompt discussion because the answers will be longer. Good questions begin with ‘Why’, ‘How’, ‘What do you think about …?’
When another person is speaking, most people use that time to think of their next witty comment or question. Doing this can cause you to miss what the person is saying. Listening is an important part of carrying on a conversation. Good conversationalists are invariably good listeners. So, the next time you are engaged in a conversation, instead of trying to come up with a clever line, focus on listening and responding in a genuine way to what the person has said.
To show interest, it is important to make eye contact frequently. This does not mean staring into someone’s eyes relentlessly. Doing so will only make the person feel uncomfortable. On the other hand, letting your eyes drift around the room gives the impression that you are looking for someone more interesting to talk to. The key is to make eye contact, then take your eyes off the other person briefly when it’s your turn to talk.
When you are engaged in a conversation, ask questions and respond to comments. It is important to keep up your end of the conversation by talking about yourself and your ideas. After all, you can’t expect the other person to keep the ball in the air alone. Remember that you are an interesting person too. However, be careful not to go overboard. The number one turn-off for most of us is listening to other people go on and on about themselves. Nobody likes to listen to someone who constantly uses the word ‘I’.
There are other important qualities in the art of conversation. One of the most important is a sense of humor. Everyone appreciates a chance to laugh or chuckle at a funny story or joke. Be careful in your selection, though. Racial or sexual humor can offend others, and reflects poor judgment on your part.
Cultivating a wide range of interests can be of help in almost any social situation. You can be up-to-date on current events by reading newspapers and magazines.
Lastly, be enthusiastic and upbeat. When you are enthusiastic, people feel that you are interested in what they are saying. Do not be afraid to show enthusiasm, and use positive reinforcement whenever possible.