How to Start, Carry On and End a Conversation

In becoming more self-confident, being able to converse easily with people is one of the most important skills you can have.  You can confidently start a conversation with people you don’t even know, you know how to carry on an intelligent conversation, and you can end any conversation gracefully.

Starting a Conversation
It’s not hard to take the initiative with conversations.  You can be the first one to say hi to your co-workers.  You can strike up a conversation with someone in the elevator.  You can talk to people on the bus, subway or airplane.

If you’re at a party, it’s appropriate to walk up to a group of people who are already talking.  After a few minutes, it’s acceptable to join in the conversation.  This may sound difficult, but it’s not.  Let me give you some tips in starting a conversation and keeping it flowing.

There are all sorts of ways to start a conversation.  It’s better that an opening conversation is on general topics and not on something very personal.  You can begin with a question: “How was your weekend?”  Or you can make an observation: “I see you’re driving a new car.”

Let’s say you’re in a grocery store.  You can comment on the food to another shopper:  “Those apples sure are inexpensive this week!  I’m so glad they’re having a sale.”  Another topic might be how many people are in the store: “It looks like we’re the only shoppers here tonight.”  You can talk about a weather event that happened, is happening, or is about to happen:  “Did you hear there’s a big storm coming?”

Another excellent opener is giving someone a compliment:  “That’s a beautiful dress you’re wearing.  Where did you buy it?” or “I like the make of car you have.  It’s sure an energy saver.  How long have you had it?”  It’s better not to give compliments just to give them.  Make sure they’re honest and that you’re sincere in what you’re saying.

Other appropriate topics are hobbies one of you may have, your job or the other person’s job, a movie or TV show you recently saw, something you read in a book or magazine, an article you saw in the newspaper, a recent shopping trip or vacation you took, and sports.

Carrying On a Conversation
If you’re attending a social function where you’ll be speaking for a longer period of time with people you don’t know, you can use several openers.  The first tip is to be able to introduce yourself with self-assuredness.  Extend your hand and say, “Hi, my name is Terry.  What’s your name?”  Make sure your handshake is firm, gripping the other person’s hand all the way inside their hand (not just their fingers) in a way that is not too strong and not too weak.  Aim for a firm grip that is between strong and weak.

Then you can ask questions that are accepted everywhere: “How do you know the hostess of the party?”  “What did you think about that lecture?”  “Is this your first conference on this topic?”  “What kind of work do you do?”  “How about that Mets game?”  These are common questions people consider as normal at the first meeting.  You may discover that you don’t know anything about something the person you’re talking to.  In this case, you’re in luck.  This is the perfect opportunity ask questions for more information.

In the course of a conversation, you may discover that the two of you have common interests.  This is the time to share information about yourself regarding this interest.  Also, it’s essential to ask questions of the other person concerning their involvement with this common interest.  Share and ask for information about thoughts, feelings, opinions and stories about the topic.

The next level of conversation is to ask people questions and to share information about family and background.  “Do you have any children?”  “How old are they?”  “What do they like to do?”  “Did you grow up here?”  When you start to open up about these more intimate topics, the other person will feel more comfortable too.  Sharing details about your own family and past reveals more personal thoughts and feelings and will help the relationship grow.

You may be wondering how much to open up and disclose to the other person.  I suggest that you experiment.  Be the first one to share a private thought, feeling, opinion or story.  If what you share is met with interest and respect, and especially if the other person responds in kind, then you can go deeper.  However, the other person may not respond at all.  If this happens, don’t open up that deeply again.  You don’t need to expose your inner self to everybody.

Over time, after you’ve gotten to know a person, you may very well feel comfortable talking about topics that are even more personal, such as politics, spiritual beliefs, relationships, difficult family situations, and personal feelings.

But don’t do this at first.  Most people don’t want to open up to others about these very personal topics when they first meet.  People will feel you’re being too aggressive if you start with any of these unless you’re at an appropriate event that would lead into one of these topics.  For example, if you’re at a political rally, it would be suitable to talk about politics.  Or if you’re attending a church, meeting a new parishioner and talking about spiritual beliefs would be fine.

A deeper conversational tool is to share your experience of the other person:  “Nancy, I’m so glad we had this opportunity to talk.  You’re so excited and knowledgeable about crocheting that it makes me want to start doing it again.  I know there’s a free class at the library.  I’m going to call and find out when they meet.  I’d love to talk with you again about it.”  Most likely, the other person will feel complimented by what you’ve shared and will feel a connection to you.

Keep in mind that not all conversations go this deep.  Many conversations you’ll have will stay at the introduction and common interests level, and these are just fine.  Sometimes conversations will go to a deeper level or skip back and forth between levels.  You’ll have a sense how deeply he or she wants to go according to how much the other person opens up.

Ending a Conversation Gracefully
All conversations eventually end.  At some point, there is little more to be said and there is a gap in the conversation.  Sometimes a conversation lasts a few minutes and sometimes it’s much longer.  Running out of things to talk about is a normal feature of all conversations.  It doesn’t mean you’re boring or that you’re a conversationalist failure.  It just means it’s time to move on to someone or something else.

Generally, people try to gracefully leave conversations.  At a party, you might excuse yourself to get some more food or use the restroom:  “It’s been nice chatting with you.  I’m still feeling hungry.  I think I’ll go to the kitchen and get some more to eat.”  Or you may say another person has arrived that you need to catch up with.  At work, you can say you need to get back to work.  You can suggest continuing the conversation in the future by proposing lunch.  You can even be as vague as saying, “It’s been nice talking to you, but I need to go.”

If you want to see this person again, don’t be shy to say, “I’ve enjoyed talking to you tonight.  Perhaps we can talk again some time.”  You can offer your business card or phone number and invite the person to contact you to get together over coffee or tea sometime.  This indicates to the person that you’re interested in talking more, but leaves the option with them to not follow through if they’re not interested or too busy.

Once you’ve incorporated these tips into your conversations, you’ll find your confidence in being with others increases.  Don’t be pushy with your conversations, but don’t shy away from them either.  They’re a great way to get to know people and to share who you are with them.