Whether you are a host or a guest, there are many social situations that will call for interaction, even when you are stumped for some way to get it going. For example, you might want to help a friend’s new “significant other” feel comfortable. Or, you might see a stranger across a crowded room, and realize that this is your only chance to impress Mr. or Ms. Wonderful. Then, you realize that you’re not sure what to say.
Start with a “hello,” and simply tell the new person your name then ask them theirs. Offer your hand to shake, upon his/her responding to you. (If you go to other countries, greet the person in tune with the particular culture). If you already know the person, skip this step and proceed to step.
Look around. See if there is anything worth pointing out. Sure, talking about the weather is a cliche, but if there’s something unusual about it–bam!–you’ve got a great topic of conversation.
Offer a compliment. Don’t lie and say you love someone’s hair when you think it’s revolting, but if you like his or her shoes, or a handbag, say so. A sincere compliment is a wonderful way to get someone to warm up to you. But be careful not to say something so personal that you scare the person off or make him or her feel uncomfortable. It is best not to compliment a person’s looks or body.
Ask questions! Most people love to talk about themselves — get them going. “What classes are you taking this year?” “Have you seen (Insert-Something-Here)? What did you think of it?” Again, keep the questions light and not invasive. Do not ask too many questions if he or she is not responsive to them.
Jump on any conversation-starters he or she might offer; take something he or she has said and run with it. Agree, disagree, ask a question about it, or offer an opinion, just don’t let it go by without notice.
Look your newfound friend in the eye, it engenders trust (but don’t stare). Also, use the person’s name a time or two during the conversation; it will help you remember the name, and will draw the person’s attention to what you are talking about.
Don’t forget to smile and have fun with your conversation!
Just relax. Chances are that whatever small-talk you’re making isn’t going to stick out in anyone’s mind a few months from now. Just say whatever comes into your head, so long as it’s not offensive or really weird. (Unless, of course, the person you’re attempting to converse with is into weird stuff.)
Remember, if you think of something in your head while you’re talking, it’s probably related.
It will help if you watch some TV, listen to radio shows, and/or read a lot — newspapers, magazines, and/or books. You need to have some idea of what is going on in the world. Also remember and plan to share anything you like, think is funny, or find intriguing. This is building up your own library of things that might be helpful to another person during a conversation someday. It will be amazing how you thread these interesting things when you least expect it, and make conversation an adventure instead of a dreadful task. If you take it to the next step and say things that you want the person to think of as adding value, and keep to yourself things that the person might not, you are actually honing your own personality to be appealing to the other person, and what is a greater act of kindness than that.
If you are shy, it will be helpful to have thought about a topic or two that you could talk about.
Follow the lead that your listener is expressing. If he or she appears interested, then continue. If he or she is looking at a clock or watch, or worse, looking for an escape strategy, then you have been going on for too long.
Interesting and funny quotes or facts can lighten things up, and make way for things to talk about. You could also use a set of conversation starter question cards for inspiration.
If talking over the phone, keep the person involved in the conversation at all costs. If you can’t come up with a good topic, try the “questions” game. Just keep asking them questions; random questions work just fine as long as they are appropriate. This technique can save a phone conversation. The questions should be open ended questions that do not require a yes or no answer. For example “How do you know the hosts?” This way you can ask questions about what they just said or follow up with how you know the hosts (for example) instead of acting as if the conversation is an interrogation.
Half of an effective conversation is the way you non-verbally communicate, and not necessarily what you say. Practice better non-verbal skills that are friendly and confident.
Read newspapers and magazines to increase your knowledge so you can have more interesting things to talk about.