Knowing how to hold a conversation can mean the difference between getting a job and a raise, making new friends, or even meeting that special someone. But for many people, starting, and holding a conversation isn’t just hard, it’s downright impossible.
If you’re one of the millions of people that thinks “I can’t start a conversation,” you’re not alone! Luckily though, with a bit of help and some practice, you’ll be on your way to becoming a master conversationalist in no time! So check out these 9 powerful tips to help you learn how to hold a conversation with ease!
Contents on How to hold a conversation:
If you want a quick introduction to how to hold a conversation, click our video below. To get all the details of each of the 9 tips, read the full post below or click a section you like in our table of contents.
The first step on how to talk to new people is knowing what you’re getting into. Before any social
interaction, set your direction and do some research. Don’t overthink this part, but understand:
● Who will I be meeting?
● Why do I want to go?
● What will I get out of this?
By ditching the attitude of “I can’t start a conversation,” and turning it into a clear goal like “I want to
meet new friends tonight,” you create purpose and confidence.
Even with a specific goal, you still might struggle when it comes time to practice how to hold a
conversation. But by going in with the right mindset, you’ll set yourself up for success.
In his book, How To Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie gives simple advice, “Be a good listener”. Although, that’s easier said than done. In today’s world, distractions are everywhere.
There’s nothing worse than getting into a great discussion only to have it ruined by an ill-timed text message. So if you want to know how to talk to new people like a pro, put away all distractions and silence your phone.
Then reflect on your conversations. Do you find yourself talking more than the other person most of the time? If you’re doing 80% of the talking, it’s not so much a conversation, it’s a lecture! Instead, try to balance listening and talking, so the other person feels valued.
By listening more, you’ll be able to ask meaningful questions and most importantly, discover if you’re compatible.
An important step when teaching how to hold a conversation is to teach compatibility. It’s always fun to stumble into a discussion with a fellow fan of your favorite sports team, TV show, or book series. The conversation will go on for longer, and flow naturally.
But sometimes it can feel difficult to find common ground with someone you just met. You might ask a few questions that don’t catch and any awkward pauses leave you once again thinking “I can’t start a conversation!”
Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. While it might seem impossible to find any connections, we’re not all that different from one another. With a bit of digging, you’re sure to find common ground and keep the conversation going.
Although compatibility is a key step in learning how to talk to new people, without any guidance, it can feel like a losing battle. Luckily, there are some easy ways to get to know another person.
It’s easier to know how to hold a conversation and establish compatibility when you know which
questions to ask. The simplest way to do this is by asking narrow questions (yes or no) first to establish a baseline. Then follow up to expand the conversation using Open-Ended questions (What or How).
For example, you could start with a simple question such as “do you like to travel?” Then follow up with a much more open-ended question such as “What is your favorite travel destination and why?”
If you want to see this method in action, watch a news interview. They warm up with narrow questions and then lead to open-ended questions to get the full picture. Their job is to get the other person to talk about what they know, see, think, and feel. It’s a similar tactic you’ll want to use when learning how to talk to new people.
Surface level questions are great at identifying compatibility, but if you want to make a lasting
impression, take your questions to the next level. In every conversation, you should be looking for ways to make more profound connections.
Once you’ve established some baseline subjects, dig deeper. Here are some open-ended phrases you can try:
- What was it that surprised you the most about…
- Tell me what it was like to…
- What was the best part of…
- Tell me how you felt about…
- What was the toughest part about…
- Tell me what it was that brought you to…
- What are the ways that it’s similar/different from…
Asking questions about a person’s feelings and experiences makes them feel important and valued. Harvard Business School research suggests that the most powerful questions are follow-up questions. It’s a great way to keep the conversation going when you’re learning how to talk to new people.
“Be brief” is one of the first things we say when teaching people how to hold a conversation. People who are long-winded will quickly lose their listeners. Nobody wants a fun story about your weekend to go off on twenty different tangents, or turn into a detailed Dickens novel.
Instead, get into the habit of making your point quickly and concisely. It takes some practice but is well worth the effort. Maybe you’re thinking “I can’t start a conversation,” if I’m too brief, but in reality, people like concise thinking.
Trimming away excess detail is an easy way to self-edit. According to Joe McCormack, author of Brief, people can only hear about 750 words a minute. That’s not a lot! The more brief your response is, the more people will hear you and, most importantly, like you.
When learning how to hold a conversation, remember that people like to talk about themselves. The most common complaint people make after having a conversation, is “I wish they asked me more questions.”
Talking about them (the T.AT. method) means exploring the other person. Who are they, what do they do, and why they’re at this particular event.
A good way into the conversation is any basic question or compliment that gets them to start talking. Simple things like “I love those shoes, where are they from?” or “Tell me more about your job,” can get the discussion flowing and help build up momentum.
While the T.A.T method is important when learning how to hold a conversation, don’t forget to do some of the talking. Take control of the discussion and steer it towards things you want to talk about.
Use questions like “have you spent any time traveling recently?”, to gauge interest in a subject. Then, after they answer, steer the conversation back to you. This is where you’ll have the perfect opening to talk about your recent travel experiences.
You won’t always be able to control where the conversation goes. But with simple questions, you can steer it towards the topics that interest you.
But, if you need some tips on how to tell people about yourself either in an interview, a social gathering, if you’re presenting, or anywhere, check this video out from Harvard Business Review.
Whether the conversation is a success or not, there always comes a point where it’s time to move on. Knowing how to end a conversation is as important as knowing how to hold a conversation. But ending a conversation with grace takes practice.
One way is to bring someone else into the conversation. If someone you know is walking past or you think of a great business contact, invite them in. After introductions, you are free to excuse yourself from the conversation.
Below is a more straightforward or manualized example of how to approach ending a conversation. Stuart Albert and Suzanne Kessler break down the approach.
Another way is to end a conversation and stay in touch is by connecting on social media. This can signal the end of a conversation, without being rude.
Ask if you can find them on LinkedIn, Facebook, or another site, then remove yourself from the conversation. By doing so, you’re opening the door to continue the conservation at a later time. You could even set a coffee meet-up right then and there.
Ending a conversation right is especially important when learning how to talk to new people. You’ll make connections and gain insight, without being rude or dismissive.
Hopefully, by now, you’re not thinking “I can’t start a conversation.” Instead, you feel prepared to
practice and perfect how to hold a conversation. Remember, find common ground, ask lots of questions, and listen wisely to help you build deeper connections and gain confidence. By utilizing these nine tips, you’ll never fear a networking or social event, again.