I have a friend who works for a big tobacco company. She was assigned the task of organizing an event, but limited budget was assigned for the event. She needed a photographer for the event, but because of the budget restrictions, she cannot afford a professional photographer. Because my hobby is photography, she asked me if I can cover the event without pay. Being a person who never says no to opportunities, I agreed. This was a good opportunity to meet new people.
I don’t know anyone in the event other than my friend who invited me. But because she was the host of the event, she cannot accompany me every time throughout the duration of the event. I was surrounded by professionals whom I never meet before, and I had to take a picture of each and every one of them! I told myself, this could be the perfect time to practice my conversation skills. Lots of small talks to people I don’t know anything about.
Taking pictures of each person was the easy part. I just had to say, “Hi! Can I take your picture for the event?” while, importantly, smiling. The real challenge was it was time to sit down with the employees to have the snacks.
So here’s what I did…
As I was approaching the table, I was already smiling. Remember that smiling is the cardinal rule for being Lykeeble. Right before taking a seat, I said hi to everybody, and repeated saying hi to those sitting near me. Instantly, there was rapport between me and the employees.
Then, I kept asking them questions to keep them talking; I asked their names, questions about the event, how long have they been working for the company, and some other banal or interesting topics. Basically, I just encouraged them to talk and I listened intently. I almost never stopped wearing a smile the whole time.
After the event, my friend told me that her co-workers told her that I was a good conversationalist. Truth is I barely spoke. They did most of the talking, I just listened. Yet, I was the conversationalist, they said.
That night, I pondered through what I did or what I said at the table. Here are the things I did and avoided.
1. Shut up!
Instead of talking, I listened with intent. Ironic, isn’t it? I should have been labelled a good listener instead of a conversationalist. People think that being a good conversationalist, you should never run out of stories to tell. That is absolutely wrong. If you are going to talk the whole time about the time you climbed Mt. Everest, surfed a 20-foot wave, or skydived, sure they may be impressed with your accomplishments, but they will eventually get bored or even think you are a braggadocio.
But it feels good to tell your accomplishments and stories, right? Then make them do it. Nobody gets bored by talking about themselves. Encourage them to talk. Ask questions. The only words that should come out of your mouth is to encourage them to talk even more, like making them elaborate something about what they said.
2. Mirror their emotions
If they are happy about telling their story, then you should be, too. If they are telling a disappointing story about something, then appear to feel disappointed about the story, too. Imagine if somebody approaches you, appearing very excited and ecstatic to tell you about their upcoming vacation to Maldives, and you reply to them with a blank face, “Happy for you.” You will kill the person’s mood. The person will probably avoid talking to you in the future.
3. No negative topics allowed
Never start your conversation with a negative topic on a first encounter. Imagine that an acquaintance is complaining about the dirty toilet on your first meeting. They may be saying the truth, but the image that is being projected is that they are a complainer. Remember that first impression lasts. It is hard to fix first impressions.
4. Never brag, even in the slightest way
If you have exceptional knowledge about the speaker’s topic, hide your knowledge. This is my favorite situation to be in. I can pretend to not know anything about the topic, but I will know the right questions to ask. In addition, I can make the speaker think that I fully understand them because of how they explained the topic. It will make them feel good about themselves.
Deception, you say? Sure, if we look at it in your perspective. Everything depends on perspective. The way I see it, though, is I made the speaker feel good. It is imperative that you don’t show the slightest hint that you are knowledgeable about the subject. You can show a little knowledge about the subject, but never outshine the speaker.
If, in a future encounter, the speaker finds out that you are more knowledgeable than him about the topic, then apologize. You will probably be more than an acquaintance at that time, so you will be more open to jokes, laughter, and apologies.
5. Be mindful of your gestures
To show people you are genuinely interested in what they have to say, always employ an “open” gesture. Never cross your arms during conversations, because it is a sign that you are not open and somewhat defensive. Show your palms and lean towards the speaker when they talk. I also like to employ the “head tilt” while looking at someone talking. It is similar to a dog’s head tilt when hearing a strange sound. Make eye contact.
I will write more about gestures in a separate article.
Do you have any more suggestions on how to be a good conversationalist? Write it in the comments below. I would really love to hear about it