Effective Conversation

by Stephen Boyd | February 28, 2004

Meeting someone for the first time can be awkward. Yet the first two minutes can determine the future of the relationship. Here are some ways to make those first two minutes count.

Your first concern as you shake hands is to get the name. Forget about the content of the conversation until you know the person’s name and how to pronounce it. Always repeat the name as soon as you hear it. This lets the other person know you are listening from the opening words and insures that you have the correct pronunciation. Lanita sometimes says, "It’s Anita with an L," and that helps people clearly understand an unusual name.

Smile, make eye contact, and look pleasant as you begin the conversation. Look at the person’s eyes until you determine the color. That is long enough to get the name and also will give you enough time to make eye contact without staring. Pleasantness goes a long way in making a connection with person. In private, check out your greeting smile in the mirror. What you think is a smile may appear to be a grimace or a smirk to the new person you are meeting; practice the smile.

Ask an open question. Yes or no questions can easily seem like an interrogation. Open questions would be, "What brings you to Cincinnati?" Or "How was your trip here?" Open questions usually have the word "What?" "Why?" or "How?" in them.

Find something in common with the person. Your question could possibly secure that information. If not, ask about where they grew up or what their major was in school. What brings the two of you to meet could be the basis of your commonality, such as a professional meeting or a community organization meeting.

Share something personal, especially if it connects to what they said. For example, "So you’re from Houston! One of our favorite family vacations was visiting relatives there," is sufficient. Don’t go into a long story, but say just enough to make the connection. If they want to know more they will indicate so. Self-disclosure is one of the best ways to initiate a trust level that can lead to a fruitful conversation. Referring to your children or something your child or spouse recently said are examples. If you disclose, the other person will be inclined to do the same.

You certainly don’t want to structure a conversation too much. Perhaps some of these suggestions will occur naturally. Remembering to include these suggestions can insure that people will consider you a good conversationalist and will want to talk to you again.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at http://www.sboyd.com. To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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