It’s not always easy speaking to other people when they aren’t your closest friends. In fact, working out what to say can feel so difficult to some people that they steer clear from meeting new people. What if the conversation dries up after the initial ‘hello’?
There are lots of ways to find the words to say. And after a bit of chat, you probably won’t need to think about it any more. You’ll have either decided to end the conversation of your own accord, or you’ll be so deep in chat that you’ll have forgotten you ever did have a problem finding something to speak about!
Here are 7 pointers to give you a few more words to choose from when moving a conversation forward. They are aimed at initiating discussions with people and for talking to those you don’t know very well. But they should work just as well for all conversation in general:
1. Read – I really do mean READ. Don’t stay in your comfort zone and browse the two specialist magazines that you love. If you want to carry an awesome arsenal of smalltalk, read the news, check out the music press, immerse yourself in art, politics, entertainment, gossip, education, technology, food, local information, anything you have the time to devour. The more you take in, the more you can comment on and the more you can open up the conversation.
2. Write – Just as important as reading. Write down anything clever, provocative, funny, interestingly open-ended…anything that you might be able to use in a conversation. Whether it’s something you’ve overheard, something you suddenly thought during a lecture, a joke on TV, a true story that happened to you in the day. Whatever it is, get it written down so you don’t forget it. Then make use of it when chatting. This is where it’s always good to have a pen and small pad about your person, though it’s not always practical.
3. Bad is good – Just because you hate something, why should that stop you talking about it? People on chat shows like to talk about many things they dislike, while some stand-up comedians make a living talking about what annoys them. Make the most of the things you don’t like, just as much as you like talking about the things you love.
4. It’s all about listening – To have things to talk about, you need to develop an ear for what people have to say. If you don’t take in other people’s stories, how are you going to have things to talk about? Another person’s story could well become yours if it’s a corker. I suppose it’s like a high culture version of gossip! Just remember not to repeat a story told in secrecy and don’t use somebody else’s story as if it were your own. You’ll only end up telling the story to a person who knows where the proper story originates and it’s never pleasant to get in that kind of situation. If you’re told a funny story, relay it as a funny story you’ve heard. It shouldn’t lose any appeal just because you’re not telling the story in first person.
5. Learn new things / Do something different – Your experiences open up the opportunities to talk about all sorts. If you tried hang-gliding and it didn’t work out for you, you can talk about your experience. If you went on some crazy hike in the middle of nowhere and ended up lost, you can make light of it now. If you don’t already have experiences like this to hand, then get out there and make some experiences happen. Then you can tell people fresh from doing those things just how it went and get the talk going nice and quickly. And it doesn’t need to be anything fancy either. Even if you just go to a new place or listen to a type of music you’re not used to, it all helps to make smalltalk.
6. Don’t take your life for granted – An activity that has become second nature to you might be the magical answer to another person’s life. You never know. Therefore, it shouldn’t harm to bring up a topic that you find very normal. It may be far from the ordinary for someone else, or it might be an easy source of discussion between you and the person you’re talking to, so either way you can succeed.
7. Keep it clean – If you are finding topics of conversation with people you don’t know, it’s best to leave the smut and bad language out of the conversation until later. Even better, get rid of it altogether. However, if you find yourself in company that’s all for the coarse choice of words and stories, feel free to fit in with that if you’re happy with it yourself. Use your common sense to make your decisions on whatever situation you find. Don’t force the decisions to be made the other way around. For once, letting the other side make the first choice can help keep you very much in control of the situation.