Do you possess all the traits of a good communicator? Even if you do not, that doesn’t mean you can’t aspire to. Are there areas you know you could work on? Could you be better at telling stories? Are you slow to reveal information about yourself? Are you hesitant to offer opinions?
Studying great communicators reveals a lot of commonalities. Conversations are driven by two main forces – you need to do something, or you want to share information. Shy people tend to view conversation as a means to accomplish something and thereby keep it at a more serious / literal level. Good conversationalists enjoy the act of conversing itself – of sharing information, of small talk and deep talk, of telling funny stories, of learning about each other. Good conversationalists, first and foremost, can quickly express their opinions, interests, hobbies, likes/dislikes, favorite things, and memorable stories. If you can’t do that, you may have work to do.
This is the most common trait of likeable conversationalists – they sometimes play with the conversation. They do not take everything literally. Let’s say that you’re at a restaurant with a friend. You get up to use the restroom, and your friend asks you, “Where are you going?”
What would you say? The literal response is always, “to the restroom.”
But the playful response could be said with a smile, “it’s a secret…” or a sarcastic “I’m leaving, I’m sick of your attitude” or “you’re so demanding” or “who wants to know?” or “I’m gonna go find someone more interesting to talk to.” You get the idea. Play more – don’t take conversation so literally.
One way to play more is by injecting hypothetical situations and scenarios into your conversation. For example, “If she does ____, that would be hilarious.”
Let’s look at a very normal response: “It’s a good thing he didn’t…”
Now let’s add a hypothetical situation to it, “It’s a good thing he didn’t… because who knows, he could have been fired!” or “…he could have been arrested!” or “…he could have been captured by pirates!” You get the idea.
Here’s one more example: A friend visits your house and sits on your couch. Before you know it, your cat, Felix, jumps up and starts rubbing against your friend’s head. You may say, “Felix is very friendly…” But you could make your phrase much more interesting by adding, “…he’ll be making out with you next time!”
Be Modest and Positive
Good conversationalists are always humble and have a positive outlook.
They may qualify phrases with modest setups like, “I don’t know a lot, but I do know that she…”
When they respond to someone, they look for the positive parts. Rather than saying, “That sucks…” they say, “Well at least you didn’t have to ____ .”
Share Interesting Information
Good conversationalists bring new information to the table. And not necessarily theories on nuclear physics – but information that is fun and relevant to the audience. They choose information that their audience would probably enjoy.
If they introduce new knowledge, they do not come off as arrogant. For example, they may say, “…did you hear about the new ____ that just came out? I’m pretty sure it will change ____…”
Make references to pop culture, “Jake totally reminds me of ____ from that ____ show.”
They are quick to offer fun and light hearted opinions on trivial subjects, “If I had to eat the peppermint fudge deluxe ice cream every day, I’d be a happy man.” By keeping it light and fun, everyone can enjoy it. They are careful not to bring up heavy subject matter like religion or politics.
Reveal tidbits of interesting information about yourself and your likes/dislikes. “My favorite lunch spot is definitely ____…” They disclose information in small chunks instead of dominating the conversation about their own interests.
Likeable conversationalists are also terrific at bringing up shared past experiences and stories. For example, “Whatever happened to ____? Is she still teaching ___?” or “That reminds me of the time that Bill did…”
Be Interested in Them
As the great Dale Carnegie once said, the best way to be likeable is to be interested in the other person. Ask good questions – go beyond, “what do you like to do?” Ask follow up questions, ask questions about specific details they bring up, like, “So tell me about how you found the…?”
Initiate conversation and bring up topics that they are interested in. Seek out commonalities. For example, “This coffee is wonderful, don’t you think?” and “I love ___ too! That’s so funny…”
And when they do share information, make sure you pay attention and listen. Reflect, paraphrase, and prove that you were paying attention. For example, “Yeah…I can only imagine how horrible that would feel…”
Don’t Forget Your Non-Verbal Communication
Psychologists have consistently discovered that people are the most drawn to those who have energy in their voice and mannerisms. It’s important not to forget that how you express yourself is often just as important as what you say. Here are a few tips to better non-verbal communication:
Vary your energy and inflection. Stay away from a flat, monotone voice. When you speak, vary the energy you put into each word or phrase. Try to emphasize the important words. Vary your volume; speak slightly louder for important phrases.
Control your speed. Great conversationalists can change their speed at will. Is it important? Then try saying it more slowly.
Speak in chunks. Great conversationalists speak in chunks. They pause between phrases and don’t quickly string phrases together. This prevents mumbling and misunderstandings and helps keep your words clear and lucid. It also helps you the speaker focus more on each phrase.
Use gestures. Gestures help paint pictures and give your audience something else to look at to keep them interested. Study a talk show host for some good ideas – they constantly gesture when they’re delivering a monologue.
Remember, try to find what works best for your personality!