Let’s talk about the art of conversation, how to get people to like you, how to talk to strangers, how to not feel socially awkward, and how to massively increase your chances of whatever you are trying to achieve with the other person. Does that sound like a lot to cover in one post? If this was a blog driven by sensationalism, I would have a list of 10 things, with a “You Won’t Believe #7.” In reality, there is only one thing you need to know to accomplish all of the above, and I’m a “to the point” kind of guy, so here it is.
I often get the questions: How do I approach someone or open a conversation? How do I become better at networking? How can I be better at talking to people?
There is one thing that EVERYONE loves to talk about… Themselves. Sure, you’ve heard it before, but have you mastered it? Have you implemented it? It’s absolutely incredible how much you can learn about someone by asking a few simple questions.
Many think that to “break the ice,” you need to have a witty comment or crack a joke, and then they get nervous, because they can’t think of anything to say.
Well, you don’t need to. Simply ask questions. I’ve had hour-long “conversations” with people, where I’ve said maybe 10-15 words during the whole hour, and at the end they tell me what a great conversation it was. It’s that powerful!
Okay, let’s get down to the technicalities. There are two kinds of questions that we are going to use for this experiment – the closed-ended question, and the open-ended question.
A closed-ended question can usually only be answered with “yes,” or “no,” or a short phrase. Be careful with these, because they can end a conversation very quickly. They are commonly used by skilled sales people to control a conversation, a topic I will be covering very soon.
An open-ended question cannot be answered with a “yes” or a “no,” and often start with words like, “How,” “What,” “Why,” etc. These are the ones we will be using most for the art of conversation. They work well even for people that don’t want to talk, or people you find it hard talking to. Here are a few examples:
- What do you do for a living?
- Interesting, how would you say a typical day looks like for you?
- Can you please elaborate on that? How does that work?
- You said you like <insert something they said they liked>, what makes you like that?
- How do you know <insert mutual friend or person they are sitting next to>?
There are tons of follow up questions, but do you see the pattern here? They can’t answer “yes” or “no.” I’ve kept people going for hours just with the “How does that work?” or the “that sounds great, tell me more” question. As long as you don’t sound like you’re just trying to too hard, because then it becomes awkward.
Listen carefully to what they say, because there are typically a bunch of things you can get them talking about. Did they mention a pet? Great, that’s another 20 minutes of keeping them going. Did they mention a hobby, an interest, something unique and cool? Keep them talking about it!
Again, remember to not be awkward about it. It has to be genuine and sound genuine. You’re getting to know a new potential friend/client/whatever they will be! They will also have questions, so answer them in the same manner.
Forget all about advanced body language, flattery, compliments (I will be covering all those topics in future posts), and just go out and talk to people! I’ve made new friends and found new clients at the grocery store, at the movies, at concerts, at networking events, and anywhere else you can think of using these techniques.
The important thing is to go out and do it.
TL;DR A great trick to become a master of conversation is to ask open-ended questions that can’t be answered with “yes” or “no.”