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How to hold a conversation

As we begin, 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.

Now, if you’re one of the millions of people who think “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!

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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.  

What does it mean to hold a conversation?

Holding a conversation is an art that blends basic communication skills with more creative, out-of-the-box strategies. It involves:

Active Listening: Paying close attention and showing genuine interest in the speaker’s words, not just waiting for your turn to talk.

Using Open-Ended Questions: Asking questions that can’t be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ encourages more detailed responses and keeps the conversation flowing.

Talking About What’s Around You: Make comments or ask questions about things you both can see or are experiencing. This makes the conversation more lively and interesting.

Sharing Your Own Stories: Talk about your experiences or thoughts that are related to the topic. This helps both of you understand each other better.

Paying Attention to Body Language: Notice how you and the other person are moving or sounding. This helps you figure out how the conversation is going and how they feel.

 

#1. Have a game plan

First, know what you’re getting into when talking to new people. Before any social event, decide what you want from it. Think about:

  • Who will I meet?
  • Why am I going?
  • What do I hope to gain?

Change thoughts like “I can’t start a conversation” to clear goals like “I want to make new friends tonight.” This gives you a purpose and confidence.

Even with a goal, it might still be hard to keep a conversation going. But with the right mindset, you’re more likely to do well.

how we talk to each other

#2. Build up your Listening Muscles

Dale Carnegie, in his book “How To Win Friends and Influence People,” advises to “Be a good listener.” But that’s not always easy. We often get distracted, especially by our phones.

When you’re in a good conversation, don’t let things like text messages interrupt. To talk to new people like a pro, put away distractions and silence your phone.

Think about your past conversations. Do you talk more than the other person? If you’re speaking 80% of the time, it’s more like a lecture than a chat! Try to listen as much as you talk. This makes the other person feel important.

By listening more, you can ask better questions and figure out if you and the other person get along well.

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#3. Find the brain’s superfood: Compatibility

A big part of learning to hold a conversation is finding compatibility. It’s great when you meet someone who likes the same sports team, TV show, or book series as you. The talk flows easier and lasts longer.

But, it can be tough to find common ground with someone new. You might ask questions that don’t lead anywhere, and awkward pauses make you think, “I can’t start a conversation!” We’ve all felt this way. It might seem hard to find connections, but we’re not that different from each other. A little effort can help you discover shared interests.

what is compatibility

Finding compatibility is crucial in learning to talk to new people. With a bit of digging, you’re sure to find common ground and keep the conversation going.

 

#4. Use the Narrow to Open method

A good way to hold a conversation and find common ground is by knowing the right questions to ask. Start with simple, narrow questions (those that can be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’) to get a basic idea. Then, use open-ended questions (starting with ‘What’ or ‘How’) to expand the conversation.

For instance, begin with a straightforward question like, “Do you like to travel?” Then, follow up with something more open, like “What’s your favorite travel destination and why?”

open ended questions

To understand this method better, watch a news interview. Notice how they start with narrow questions and then move to open-ended ones to get a complete picture. The interviewer’s goal is to get the person to share their knowledge, observations, thoughts, and feelings. This is a similar approach you can use when learning to talk to new people.

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#5. Make People feel important

What’s more, 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:

  • Talk about what surprised you the most about…
  • Tell me what it was like to…
  • How was the …
  • Tell me how you felt about…
  • What is 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.

#6. Learn to Self-Edit

One key tip for holding a conversation is to “Be brief.” Long-winded stories can make listeners lose interest. It’s not fun when a simple weekend story turns into a complicated, lengthy tale with too many details.

Try to make your points quickly and clearly. It takes practice, but it’s important. You might worry that being brief means you can’t start a conversation, but actually, people appreciate it when you get to the point without extra fluff.

edit your conversation

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.

#7. Use the T.A.T. Method (Talk About Them)

When holding a conversation, remember people enjoy talking about themselves. A common complaint after conversations is “I wish they asked me more questions.”

The T.A.T. method focuses on the other person. Find out who they are, what they do, and why they’re at the event. Start with a simple question or compliment to get them talking. For example, “I love those shoes, where are they from?” or “Tell me more about your job.” These can kickstart the conversation and build momentum.

#8. Don’t Forget to Talk About Yourself…You’re Important too

While using the T.A.T. method is great, don’t forget to talk about yourself as well. You’re important too! Control the conversation a bit and bring up topics you’re interested in.

Ask something like, “Have you traveled recently?” to see if they’re interested in that topic. Then, after their response, you can share your travel stories. You might not always control where the conversation goes, but with the right questions, you can guide it towards your interests.

But, if you need some tips on how to tell people about yourself, check this video out from Harvard Business Review.

#9. Know when it’s time to move on

Whether the conversation is a success or not, there always comes a point when it’s time to move on. Knowing how to end a conversation is as important as knowing how to hold a conversation.

One method is to involve someone else. If you see someone you know nearby or think of a person who’d be a good contact for the other person, introduce them. After the introductions, you can politely excuse yourself.

Another way is to connect on social media. Suggest connecting on LinkedIn, Facebook, or another platform. This signals the conversation is wrapping up, but you’re open to chatting more later. You could even suggest meeting for coffee another time.

 

Ending conversations well is important, especially when meeting new people. It helps you make connections and leave a good impression without seeming rude.

FAQ’s : Holding a Conversation

How do I start a conversation with someone I don’t know well?

Start by commenting on a shared experience or environment, like the weather, an event you’re both attending, or something noticeable around you. This can break the ice and lead to more topics. Asking open-ended questions that encourage the other person to share their thoughts or experiences is also effective.

What should I do if the conversation starts to lag?

If the conversation hits a lull, consider shifting the topic to something related or asking the other person about their interests or recent experiences. Sharing an interesting fact or asking for their opinion on a light-hearted topic can also re-energize the conversation.

How can I make sure I’m not dominating the conversation?

Practice active listening by focusing more on what the other person is saying rather than planning your next response. Ask questions about their statements and show interest in their answers. Balance sharing your own experiences with inviting them to share theirs.

How do I end a conversation politely when I need to leave?

To end a conversation politely, thank the person for the chat, mention that you enjoyed talking with them, and provide a brief reason for needing to leave. For example, you might say, “It’s been great talking with you, but I have to head out now for another appointment. Let’s catch up another time!”

Let’s reflect

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.

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Steve Anthony

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