Learn How to Make Small Talk and Make Conversation
Want to learn how to become a brilliant conversationalist?
“A man's character may be learned from the adjectives which he habitually uses in conversation.” - Mark Twain
This site is about learning how to be more charismatic, and part of developing your charisma levels is learning how to make small talk, and how to make conversation with people you may not know.
It's fair to say that people that ooze charisma are interesting, and make great conversation. You will do well to find a charismatic person that is dull and boring. In-fact I think the words ‘dull’ and ‘charisma’ could even be considered an oxymoron.
Being a great conversationalist is actually a lot easier than you think in terms of being more charismatic. Of course you can obviously make sure you are well read, and have an excellent general knowledge. This will always make you a better conversationalist because it will allow you to contribute more to conversations. But you knew that already didn’t you.
If you have the time to do this and want to build up your subject knowledge, that’s fantastic. The downside to this though is that it may take some time. I encourage you to read as much as you can on as many subjects as possible. You can never be too well read, but of course it will take you time to really build up your knowledge.
There is another much quicker way that you can improve your conversation skills, and it doesn’t require any reading at all. In fact, ironically it doesn’t involve much speaking either.
Dale Carnegie once wrote that “A person’s name is to that person the sweetest sound in any language”. Simply put, this means that people are always more interested in themselves than anyone else and they will always be more responsive to the sound of their own name. These are both two vital charisma points this chapter will touch on.
Remember the anecdote in the opening chapter about the two British politicians that took the same lady out for dinner? The one that made the lady feel like she was the most interesting person on the planet ended up winning the election. Charismatic people know that people are more interested in themselves than anyone else. Whether they admit it or not, it is more than likely that a person’s favorite subject in the entire world is the subject of…well themselves.
If you want to immediately improve your conversation skills, make an effort to focus the conversation more on the person you are talking to, and less on yourself. I’ve seen this referred to as “Social Jiu-Jitsu” because in essence you are applying a form of marital arts, only instead of physical, it is verbal or social.
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Become a Master of Social Jiu Jitsu
Social Jiu-Jitsu is the art of getting people to talk about themselves without them even knowing it, and it is one of the hallmarks of any charismatic leader. A social Jiu-Jitsu expert is completely fascinated by the story of your holiday, or what you did last weekend, or what you are going to do this coming weekend. They want to know everything about what you do at work, and how you managed to get promoted to where you are today. They want to know about your family and what your hopes and dreams are.
Have you ever had experience with a Social Jiu-Jitsu expert? If you have, you may find that you had a delightful conversation with someone for 10 minutes, only to realize afterwards that you didn’t really learn anything about them. In-fact on reflection, you realize that you did all the talking and they made you feel like you were the most interesting person in the world.
The biggest step you can take to becoming a Social Jiu-Jitsu expert is to simply ask more engaging questions about the person you are speaking to, and then listen intently, while all the time remaining present and ensuring your body language is strong. Let them do most of the talking, and when they have finished their sentence, reply and follow up with more dialog that leads the conversation back to them, prompting them to continue talking about themselves. Once you have learnt something about them, ask them how they achieved it. Ask them what they learnt from it, and how you can achieve the same thing.
You will be amazed how this can immediately make you appear more interesting. As ironic as it sounds, people will find you more interesting and will enjoy being around you a lot more, simply because you let them lead the conversation and make them feel interesting.
I once had this experience first-hand a few years ago. I was at a party and started chatting to a lady that I had just met. Her name was Erin. By the end of the party as I drove home, I thought to myself what a friendly, warm, interesting person she was. When I reflected further and tried to work out exactly what it was that I liked about her, I suddenly realized that I actually didn’t know that much about her at all. The entire time I had been speaking to Erin, she had gently kept steering the conversation back in my direction, and prompted me to tell her all about myself. Where I worked, what I did for fun, my hobbies and goals etc. I shared past storied with her, and chatted openly for ages. As I looked back though I realized that she had done very little talking herself, but somehow I had felt as if she were incredibly interesting and really enjoyed being around her! I realized I had been a victim of Social Jiu-Jitsu, and I had loved every minute of it. Erin was a master at this skill, and I later learnt that everyone loves her for it. Wherever she goes, she makes the people she engages with feel like they are the most interesting person in the world. The people I met that knew Erin only had good things to say about her.
On the other end of the scale, I used to work with a lady who was the exact opposite of a Social Jiu-Jitsu expert. We would usually take about a 15 minute tea break each day where employees sat around a table and made small-talk. This girl took it upon herself to dominate those 15 minutes, always steering the conversation back to herself. If someone else started a story about a particular subject, she would chime in with an experience that was similar. If someone started to talk about what they were up to the following weekend she would chime in and tell everyone what she would be doing. More often than not, she would end up talking for 80% of the tea-break, while the other employees simply had to sit around and listen to her. Ironically, as is so often the case with this kind of people, she thought she oozed charisma and was the life of the party, but to the rest of us, we found her loud, rude and dominating.
People love talking about themselves. I don’t mean this in an arrogant or selfless way, but it’s the truth. If you want to immediately appear more interesting and improve your conversation skills, try and focus on directing the conversation back to the person you are talking to rather than steering the conversation towards yourself (as she did).
This technique is one of the greatest skills a charismatic person holds in their armory. Remember Bill Clinton, and how he makes people feel like they are the only person in the room when he speaks to them? It’s because he looks them in the eye and keeps steering the conversation back to them. He encourages people to keep talking about themselves, and then listens intently and asks more meaningful questions.
A second powerful tool you can use to improve your conversation skills is to use the person’s name more often. You obviously don’t want to overuse it by mentioning it in every second sentence, but by sprinkling their name around, it certainly makes them feel more important. It is especially powerful if you use it at the start of the conversation. When greeting them, be sure to say “Hi Peter”, as opposed to “Hi”. It sounds like a minor detail but just adding their name to your greeting creates a far more powerful impression.
Linked to this is also the importance of remembering a person’s name. I experienced the full impact of this about 2 years ago and it has left a lasting impression on me.
I had met someone briefly for a couple of minutes at an office sales function. We didn’t work in the same department, and as a result, our paths didn’t cross for about 3 weeks after that. Then suddenly we happened to pass each other by on the corridor one morning. Without even blinking an eye, the person said “Morning Gary”, as they walked past me. I can still remember how surprised I was to hear them say my name. I had completely forgotten their name, but somehow they had managed to remember mine. The unexpectedness of this created a lasting impression on me, and since that day I have always gone out of my way to try and remember people’s names. I find the best way to do this is to make a rhyme about their name when you meet them, or even better associate their name with another person you know well with the same name. Picture the other person and this new person together in the same image and say their name a few times until it sinks in.
When they do speak, charismatic people also seem to have a certain way with words. They tend to use phrases like “We”, rather than “I”. So if they were in a group of friends they would say something like “We should go to XYZ restaurant”, rather than “I want to go to XYZ restaurant”. The simple difference is that “We” creates a sense of togetherness and unity, rather than the “I” which has more of an individual image associated with it. The choice of “We” makes it sound like the user has the group’s best interests at heart, rather than their own, which is a common skill of charismatic people.
Small Talk Charisma Exercise:
Your next exercise is to have a conversation with someone, and focus on gently steering the conversation back to them so that they do most of the talking. Of course you want to keep it natural, and will obviously have to speak yourself to do this, but when you find that you are doing more talking than them, simply move the conversation back to them, by asking them a question, or their opinion about the subject. An example could be if you’re chatting to your partner about your day. Instead of rushing off and telling them all about your day, and what went right or wrong, encourage them to talk about their day. Listen intently and let them continue talking. If they ask you about your day, tell them a little bit about it, but steer the conversation back to them, always letting them do more talking than you. Ask empowering questions using why and how. Charismatic people shine the spotlight on other people. Never forget that.
Want to Develop Your Charisma Further?
Here at The Charisma Rules, we believe Charisma is a simple skill that can be learnt. It all comes down to being aware that these rules exist, and then applying them to your life.
If you'd like to learn more about these rules, be sure to grab a copy of The Charisma Rules.