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11 ways to get better at small talk

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Read on to make small talk less a burden and more an experience that’s actually (gasp!) enjoyable.

Demonstrate interest in your conversation partner

Several Quora users said the best way to keep a conversation rolling is to show you care about what the other person has to say.

“If you don’t fundamentally care about the person you are speaking with, that will show, and that may be the primary reason why you are running out of things to discuss,” Kai Peter Chang writes.

That also means letting your conversation partner share information about himself or herself.

“Let the other person speak more,” Anam Gulraiz writes. “People LOVE talking about themselves.”

Ask open-ended questions

Instead of asking yes/no questions that lead to dead ends, encourage your conversation partner to share some more detail about his or her life.

“In general, open-ended questions lead to more conversational paths,” Craig Weiland says.

For example, instead of asking a fellow party guest, “Are you here with your family?” you might ask, “How did you meet the host?”

Allow your conversation partner to teach you

“If there’s a subject you’re not familiar with, just be honest with that person and nine out of 10 times they’ll teach you about it,” Michael Wong writes.

It goes back to that central idea of letting other people do most of the talking. Asking other people to explain what they mean might prompt them to talk for at least another few minutes.

Share anecdotes

Don’t hesitate to let your conversation partner know that you can relate to what he or she is telling you, Ellen Vrana says.

“This forms a bond,” she adds.

For example, if your partner says he or she spent time living in another country and you did as well, share a story or two about your years abroad. You’ll most likely prompt the other person to tell you about some similar memories.

Practice the FORM technique

Robert Adams uses a special mnemonic to keep conversations flowing easily, FORM:

• Family: Do you have kids? Where is your family from? How long have you lived around here?

• Occupation: What do you do for a living? What is that like? Have you always been a circus acrobat?

• Recreation: What do you guys do for fun? How long have you been involved in SCA? Where do you buy chain-mail, or did you make it yourself?

• Money: What happened with the price of gas? Did you see that last school-bond issue? How do you think the new liquor-store laws will shake out? Anybody you know lose their job lately?

Read the news

Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

In the days leading up to a social function, take time to peruse the news, “including the sections that don’t really interest you,” Mark Simchock writes.

That way, if a conversation should come to an abrupt halt, you can fill the silence with, “Hey, did you hear about …” or “Man, how about that … ?”

Boost your conversation partner’s self-esteem

Flatter people to capture and hold their interest, Joe Goebel suggests.

“Try to make everyone you talk with feel a little better about themselves after having met and talked to you,” he writes.

Practice with everyone you meet

Whether the doorman at work or a fellow passenger on the train, try your hand at small talk with everyone, Rohan Sinha says.

Eventually, you’ll start feeling more comfortable striking up and maintaining interesting conversations.

Copy good conversationalists

AP Photo/Courtesy of Harpo Studios

“Listen to comedians, listen to talk-show hosts, listen to real people,” Edahn Small recommends.

Try to remember the kinds of questions they ask, how they follow up on the other person’s answers, and even how they make use of silence. Chances are good that they learned the same way.

Use the ARE format

Andrian Iliopoulos uses a method from communications expert Carol Fleming, ARE:

• Anchor: Find something you two have in common right now. For example, “This cocktail is really fancy — what’s in it?”

• Reveal: Share something personal with the other person. For example, “I tried a similar cocktail at a beach bar in Malibu last year and it blew me away.”

• Encourage: Invite them to share something personal. For example: “I can see it in your eyes that you hate cocktails. You are more of a whiskey drinker, aren’t you?”

Ask a better version of, ‘What do you do?’

In a 2013 blog post, best-selling author Gretchen Rubin suggests asking people you meet, “What’s keeping you busy these days?”

Rubin writes: “It’s useful because it allows people to choose their focus (work, volunteer, family, hobby) — preferable to the inevitable question (well, inevitable at least in New York City): ‘What do you do?'”

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