The Art of Great Conversation

Two female friends talking at a coffee shop
Two female friends talking at a coffee shop

You're going to a party, networking event or cocktail hour to meet new contacts and make connections. However, you always have a problem figuring out how to approach people, no matter what the situation.

Thankfully, there are skills you can hone and then use in social or business settings. They may be verbal or nonverbal, and easy to grasp or require a little practice. I want to explore the science of great conversation with you.

Let's take a look at how you can master your people skills and harness the power of body language to start conversations with anyone, anywhere, anytime.

How can you make dazzling conversation with anyone you meet? There is both an art and a science to effective communication.

1. Be Anti-Boring

Everyone starts off conversations the same way. They say, "What do you do?" or "Where are you from?" Instead, ask someone, "What passion projects are you working on?" or "What gets you up in the morning?"

2. Start off Strong

Start off the conversation with a "how" or "why" question. People will give you more thoughtful answers and really think about why you're asking them. Say, for instance, "How did you meet the host?" That way you'll learn about the person you're talking to, as well as the host.

3. Trips and Adventures

Ask people if they have any trips or fun adventures coming up.

4. Foster Excitement

Ask people if anything exciting happened to them that day.

5. Stories

Tell a story. People love funny anecdotes and it makes your conversation more personal right off the bat.

6. Break it Down

Break down a question for someone. Instead of being general and saying, "How are you doing?," ask, "How's Fall treating you so far?" Frame it in the context of time so he or she can thoughtfully answer the question.

7. Be the Highlight

Ask a person, "Have any highlights today?" Not only is this person going to feel good because he or she gets to talk about him or herself, but it also starts off the conversation on a positive note.

8. The Handshake

Use a firm handshake when you meet someone. Don't do the "death grip," but make sure that your firmness level communicates that you're confident in yourself.

9. The Eyes Have It

Make eye contact with someone. Power gaze at people; this involves looking at people's eyes and foreheads, and not below their mouths. That's only for social situations.

10. Power Pose

Don't stand slumped over. Instead, do a power pose. Stand with your feet apart and your arms loose at your sides. People are going to be attracted to you and want to talk to you because you seem confident and in control.

11. Like-Dar

Ask a "like radar" question. This is a question that will highlight what you two have in common. For example, you might ask, "Keeping up with [certain sport] lately?" or "What are your favorite restaurants around here?" These questions and things in common will foster instant connections.

12. Smile

Be positive and smile. Make sure your smile extends to your eyes so that it looks authentic. People are attracted to positivity, not negativity.

13. Authenticity

Be authentic in your interactions and not sarcastic. People want to start conversations with you because you're being real, and not facetious.

14. From the Heart

When cold calling or emailing someone, give him or her authentic compliments from the heart.

15. What Can I Do For You?

During a cold interaction, say specifically what you can do for a person.

16. Warm it Up!

To further your cold interaction and make it warmer, include an actionable question at the end of your call or email. For example, you could say, "Could we jump on a call to discuss your goals with time management?"

17. Your Feet

In a group conversation, point your feet towards the person you want to hone in on and talk to. It shows that you're in tune with what that person has to say.

18. The Head Tilt

In a group conversation, tilt your head to show that you're listening to the person. Then, he or she will see that you're paying attention and be more inclined to speak to you privately.

19. The Face

Watch your microexpressions in any social setting, even if you're not talking to anyone. For example, if your eyebrows are raised and your lips are stretched or drawn back, it shows that you're afraid and not calm and collected. People want to talk to you if you're composed and not scared.

20. To Fist Bump or Not to Fist Bump?

Do not fist bump when first meeting someone. Shake his or her hand instead. This creates oxytocin and an immediate connection.

21. Sweaty Palms

Make sure your hand is dry when you go to shake another person's hand. Nobody wants to talk to someone with a wet hand, because it shows that he or she is nervous.

22. Vertical

Hold your hand out and move it up and down with the other person's hand. If you hold your hand over his or hers, it demonstrates that you're condescending. If you put your hand out palm up, and hold it below the other person's hand, it shows that you're lower than him or her. You want to be perceived as an equal instead.

23. By the Bar...

At any event, situate yourself right where people are exiting the bar with their drinks. This is when they're settling in and ready for interactions.

24. ... or By the Food

Sit down where people are eating too. As soon as they put their plates down, shake their hands and start talking to them.

25. The Sweet Spot

Stand or sit still when you're in your sweet spot at the bar exit and the tables. Nobody wants to interact with someone who is fidgeting.

26. Watch Your Nerves

On that note, watch your self-soothing behaviors. Don't clasp your hands together, tap your foot or self groom while waiting for people to approach you.

27. Alpha Behavior

To demonstrate alpha behavior in a group and attract people to you, use expressive gestures. For example, describe two ideas coming together by bringing your hands together.

28. The Power of the Lean

If you're in a group setting and trying to focus on connecting with one person, lean in when he or she talks. It shows, "I want to be with you and talk with you."

29. Display Confidence

When you're standing and waiting for an interaction, keep your head up and your shoulders down to communicate how confident you are.

30. Vocal Power

When you first start talking to someone, use your low vocal power to keep him or her engaged.

31. Remember to Breathe

Take deep breaths and don't go high up with your vocals. End all your questions with a period, not a question mark. You want to sound like you're sure of yourself.

32. Be Passionate

Add excitement into your introductions. Raise your voice, for example, when talking about your company or your passions.

33. Growth

If you're in a group and you want people to pay attention to you, use the nonverbal hand signal for growth. This involves raising your hand in an upward slope. You're showing people using your body language how successful you are. Of course, we're all attracted to successful people and want to start conversations with them.