Some people have the gift of gab and have no problem engaging in small talk, even when they have just met someone new. So what's the secret to keeping a meaningful conversation going and removing the fear of running out of things to say? Here are tips and tricks to make your next meet-up easy and fun.
- Prepare Ahead of Time: My ten-year-old nephew, Kent, has an extensive vocabulary and sounds like an eighty-year-old man when he speaks. However, when meeting people for the first time, he tends to stay very quiet and will answer questions with a tentative 'yes' or 'no.' My brother asked me what he could do to help his son feel more comfortable joining in conversations. My advice was to prepare Kent ahead by giving him an idea of what questions will be asked. For example, "What grade are you in?", "What's your favorite subject?", "What do you want to be when you grow up?" This way, he'll feel confident knowing what answers he will give. Before going to a networking event, party, or job interview, consider what you want to say when introducing yourself. Prepare to answer questions like, "What do you do for a living?", "How do you know the bride or groom?" "Why do you want to work for this company?" To keep people engaged, have a funny or interesting story about yourself, your work, or your hobby.
- Be Relaxed: I worked with a young man who told me he gets anxious when he attends networking events. He said, "I get so self-conscious that I don't know what to do with my hands." I explained that everyone could pick up on nervous energy, so feel calm and confident in your event by taking a few deep breaths before walking in. Check your posture; stand with your shoulders back, your head lifted, and smile. Focus on the person you're speaking to, and you won't worry about your hands. Remember to ask follow-up questions to your new acquaintance as they give you information about themselves. For example, "Your work sounds fascinating; how did you get started?", "What's the best part of your job?", "I would like to hear more about your volunteer work."
- Eye Contact: To let people know you're interested in keeping the conversation going, maintain eye contact. I watch for non-verbal cues in body language, and when I notice someone looking past me or down at their watch, I let the conversation come to an end. Whether they see someone they need to meet with or have an appointment, I recognize that our discussion is winding down. If you get distracted and break eye contact for more than a few seconds, you're letting the other person know that you've lost interest in what they're saying. If you want the person to know you're engaged and want to keep talking, focus on them, react to what they're saying by nodding your head in agreement, or smile if they said something funny.
- Listen: How often have you been introduced to someone only not to remember their name a few minutes later? We're so concerned about what we'll say when someone stops speaking that we should listen better. Relationships solidify when we pay attention to the information we're receiving. An excellent way to have someone's name locked in your mind is to say it after you've heard it. For example, "Hi, my name is Celeste." "Hello, Celeste; nice to meet you." As your conversation continues, be present and carefully hear what your new friend is saying. If she's finished with her story, follow up with a statement or question to let her know you care about what she said. For example, "That was an excellent story about your recent trip to Greece! Thank you for sharing, Celeste," or "What other museums or art galleries did you attend?" By giving people the respect of listening to them, you'll find that they'll provide you with the same courtesy when you're telling a story. This give-and-take will keep the conversation going, and you'll enjoy meeting someone new.
- Be Well Informed on Current Events: Stay up to date with topical news of the day. What movie, tv show, or book is getting a lot of press? Keep your opinions positive and uplifting when relaying stories. For example, "I just finished watching Downtown Abbey and enjoyed the character development and beautiful cinematography. Have you seen it?" Most people will cut a discussion short if it becomes contentious. Stay away from politics.
Most people enjoy a fun conversation that leaves them feeling good. When that happens, no one wants the event to end.