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Whether you’re speed-dating, networking, or simply socializing, knowing how to start an engaging chat is a must.
But it’s not always easy. What if you and your conversation partner seem to have nothing in common? What if there’s an awkward pause? What if you accidentally insult the person?
To help you out, we reviewed the Quora thread “How can I get better at small talk?” and highlighted some of the most helpful responses.
Read on to impress new acquaintances with your masterful conversation skills.
1. Demonstrate interest in your conversation partner
Several Quora users noted that the best way to keep a conversation rolling is to show you care about what the other person has to say.
“If you don’t fundamentally care about the person you are speaking with, that will show, and that may be the primary reason why you are running out of things to discuss,” writes Kai Peter Chang.
That also means letting your conversation partner share information about himself or herself.
“Let the other person speak more,” writes Anam Gulraiz. “People LOVE talking about themselves.”
2. Ask open-ended questions
Instead of asking yes/no questions that lead to dead ends, encourage your conversation partner to share some more detail about his or her life.
“In general, open-ended questions lead to more conversational paths,” says Craig Welland.
For example, instead of asking a fellow party guest, “Are you here with your family?” you might ask, “How did you meet the host?”
3. Allow your conversation partner to teach you
“If there’s a subject you’re not familiar with, just be honest with that person and nine out of ten times they’ll teach you about it,” writes Michael Wong.
It goes back to that central idea of letting other people do most of the talking. Asking the other person to explain what they mean means they’ll be talking for at least another few minutes.
- Flickr / Elvert Barnes
4. Read the news
In the days leading up to a social function, take time to peruse the news, “including the sections that don’t really interest you,” writes Mark Simchock.
That way, if a conversation should come to an abrupt halt, you can fill the silence with, “Hey, did you hear about …” or “Man, how about that … ?”
5. Share anecdotes
Don’t hesitate to let your conversation partner know that you can relate to what he or she is telling you, says Ellen Vrana.
“This forms a bond,” she adds.
For example, if your partner says he or she spent time living in another country and you did as well, share a story or two about your years abroad. You’ll likely prompt the other person to tell you about some similar memories.
6. Practice the FORM technique
Robert Adams uses a special mnemonic to keep conversations flowing easily:
- F-amily: Do you have kids? Where is your family from? How long have you lived around here?O-ccupation: What do you do for a living? What is that like? Have you always been a circus acrobat?R-ecreation: What do you guys do for fun? How long have you been involved in SCA? Where do you buy chain-mail, or did you make it yourself?M-oney: What happened with the price of gas? Did you see that last school-bond issue? How do you think the new liquor-store laws will shake out? Anybody you know lose their job lately?
7. Be honest
“There’s nothing wrong with just saying, ‘You know, I hate small talk, so how about we talk about something big?'” writes Derek Scruggs.
Chances are, your conversation partner will feel somewhat relieved.
Scruggs recommends having on hand a few “big” questions that promote intimacy, including, “What’s something that scared you today?” and “Are you happy with your current lifestyle?”
8. Copy good conversationalists
“Listen to comedians, listen to talk show hosts, listen to real people,” recommends Edahn Small.
Try to remember the kinds of questions they ask, how they follow up on the other person’s answers, and even how they make use of silence. Chances are good that they learned the same way.
9. Boost your conversation partner’s self-esteem
Flatter people in order to capture and hold their interest, suggests Joe Goebel.
“Try to make everyone you talk with feel a little better about themselves after having met and talked to you,” he writes.
10. Practice with everyone you meet
Whether it’s the doorman at work or a fellow passenger on the train, try your hand at small talk with everyone, says Rohan Sinha.
Eventually, you’ll start feeling more comfortable striking up and maintaining interesting conversations.