It’s the most dreaded social moment. You’re sitting in a group surrounded by lively chatter when you realized your mind’s gone blank. Suddenly this fun get-together feels more like a test and one you’re now too anxious even to figure out.
It feels impossible not to worry, and for one simple reason: nobody wants to seem boring.
Luckily, the art of conversation isn’t quantum physics. All it takes is understanding a few key principles, and you’ll have the flow down in no time.
Take a Deep Breath
People with exceptional communication skills have one striking thing in common. Wherever they are, they seem totally at home. That’s because being even a little nervous can cause mental paralysis, but when we’re relaxed, it signals our brains to be open and unreserved.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. How is it possible to change what feels like a natural emotion?
This can be done by shifting the view. When you’re worried about how others view you, remember that everyone else is worried about the same thing. Humans are social creatures, meaning every person wants to be interesting, accepted, and valued.
And when you’re thinking about them, rather than yourself, that’s what you can offer them.
The Art of Conversation, not Monologue
Focusing on others also helps you listen more and talk less, which is equally vital for improving your conversation skills.
At first, this might seem counterintuitive. Isn’t great communication about actual communication, sharing funny anecdotes and witty jokes? Yet, the truth is that what others remember most is how you make them feel.
Though it’s not enough to stare blankly and occasionally nod while someone talks. It’s also important to pay attention to their body language and energy level. Are they leaned back comfortably, in for a casual night? Are they excited and engaged, leaning forward? Meeting others where they’re at encourages them to feel more comfortable talking.
People also rarely feel listening to, so finding a willing ear is great for earning their trust. This is a precious skill to learn, given that most people are way worse at listening than they think.
And if you add in periodically asking questions that show real curiosity, then pretty soon others will be eager to open up to you.
Give Back to the Flow
There’s a balance, though. If all someone does is ask one question after another, it can start to feel like they’re conducting a questionnaire. That’s why it’s also important to inject your own personality.
If you have a thought pop up about some detail, they’ve mentioned, or you can relate something about yourself that builds around a shared interest. This is what prevents a dialogue from becoming an interview. And the best part is that it gives you a chance to be yourself.
And if you’re worried you’ll flat, you can also keep notes. If you read a fascinating article, learn a new fact, or think up an interesting question, write it down. Then next time you’re in a group, you can gauge the mood and bring it up organically.
Put Yourself Out There
Learning conversation etiquette requires practice. This might be intimidating if you’re shy, but there are tons of places to do so without so much pressure.
You can practice small talk at yoga in the park or try salsa dancing with other beginners. There’s also volunteering to walk dogs through meeting others out walking, or you could grab a drink at your local bar. And if you really want to get out and socialize, you can even go on a booze cruise.
All it takes is practice. And the more you feel out the flow, the easier it’ll be.
Don’t Forget to Have Fun.
The art of conversation should be fun, not stressful. Instead of seeing it as a hurdle to get over, try viewing it as a chance to connect with others, learn something new, and improve your relationships. Putting these principles into practice out in the wild will open up whole new opportunities and make you a better communicator.