The following is a guest article from Katrina Razavi, communication coach and founder of CommunicationforNerds.com. You can sign up for her free three-video mini course called “How to Shut Up that Inner Voice & Beat Awkward Conversations”.
Tired of awkward conversations? Here’s how to be charismatic and keep ANY conversation going in 3 easy steps.
Picture this: You just met someone new and you’re both chatting it up, but then, out of nowhere… you go completely blank. The conversation comes to a screeching halt and your mind is scrambling for something to say, but nothing comes out.
This happens to many of us, so not to worry.
Sure, there are those guys who make conversations seem effortless. They can make girls laugh in a few seconds, they never run out of things to talk about, and everything they say is interesting.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: you can be that guy.
Social skills are just that… skills.
Like any other skill they can be learned, developed, turned into a habit, and (eventually) perfected.
Imagine having the ability to go into ANY conversation with ANY person coming off as likeable, charismatic, and fun to talk to.
Today I want to give you the 3-step strategy to do just that. Use it to increase your charisma and make someone feel like they’re the only person in the room.
Step 1: Get present
The 80/20 rule of having a great conversation is being present.
Do you ever get into a conversation with someone else but then end up having a conversation with yourself? Your inner-voice may say:
- Oh crap, what am I going to say next?
- What should I have for dinner tonight?
- Does this person think I’m an oddball?
This is your “default network” being activated in your brain – it’s your mind wandering. It turns out that the average person’s mind wanders 46.9% of the time.
Interestingly, when the default network is activated you are thinking socially. You’re analyzing yourself in a social way – your status, the status of those around you, your future, your past, etc.
How do you get away from triggering the default network so that your mind doesn’t wander?
You activate the inverse network in your brain that neuroscientists call “direct experience.”
The Direct Experience Network
This direct experience network triggers different parts of the brain including the insula (responsible for bodily sensations). It helps you experience events in real-time.
That sounds easy, but how do you actually do this?
You develop “triggers” or “cues” that get you into a present state. It’s the first step in building habits; these triggers will get you focused on your desired behavior.
The habit loop, coined by Charles Duhigg, consists of three things: the cue (aka trigger), the routine, and the reward.
The trigger is a physical or mental cue (described below) leading to your desired behavior (feeling present) and the reward (an amazing conversation). After doing this several times consecutively it will begin to happen naturally.
Action Item #1: Create a Cue to Get Present
Here are some cues to get you back into a “present state.” Use them as you start a new conversation with someone (or any other time you find your mind wandering).
- Visualization – If you prefer to take a mental approach, use visualization to get into the right mind-state. Just before jumping into a social event, picture yourself excelling at conversations, being open, and talking to people happily.
- Go-To Phrase – Another option is to have a go-to phrase that you tell yourself to get back in the present. It can be something like “I’m here, I’m focused, I’m ready.” Iterate on the exact verbiage to find the mental cues that suit you best.
- Physical Cues – These can be things like taking a deep breath to re-center yourself, getting into a power pose, smiling, closing your eyes for a few seconds, or adjusting your tie or suit. Try a few to learn which work best for you.
When you’re present during a conversation you become a better listener. You give the other person 100% of your attention; you’re not split between your conversation partner and your inner-voice.
When you’re present, the other person can feel it. They know they’re being listened to and appreciated; they will find YOU to be charismatic.
Step 2: Listen
I know this sounds too easy to be true, but this step is imperative to getting to Step 3. It will also make people love talking to you.
Here’s another secret you may have not realized: people love talking about themselves.
The truth is in the numbers. We spend 40% of our time talking about ourselves. In an interesting Harvard experiment, subjects’ brains were scanned as they talked about themselves.
When people talk about themselves they feel a biochemical “high”. People were even willing to forego money (17% of their earnings) to talk about themselves and their opinions on current events!
The kicker? Subjects were found to enjoy self-disclosure even more when they knew they were being listened to.
You may think that being the first person to say something or taking over the entire conversation by talking about yourself is the best way to show off your social skills.
Listening is so much more powerful. It engenders trust and makes the other person feel appreciated. Don’t be afraid of a few seconds of pausing or silence; this constant fear will only make it harder to stay present. (Step 3 will help you naturally combat this).
If you get nervous in social situations, simply ask yourself, “How can I make this person feel more comfortable?” The answer is typically to listen to them, ask them a question, and then stay engaged and present.
Listening also means reading body language and nonverbal cues.
Humans speak verbally and nonverbally. Research has shown that our emotions and perceptions are affected by just seeing another person’s body language.
You may have noticed this when you see a baby smiling and you feel a sense of happiness. Or when you see someone yawn and feel a pang of exhaustion.
Action Item #2: Listen to Body Language
Start paying attention to people’s body language and their associated moods. A person’s body language can give you an indication of how they’re feeling. For example…
Things may not be going well if the person you’re talking to is:
- Touching their neck or face
- Not making eye contact – looking at their phone, looking down, or looking away from you
- Standing with their feet facing away from you
- Crossing their arms or feet
Things are looking up if the person you’re talking to is:
- Maintaining eye contact
- Positioning their feet towards you
- Using an open, erect posture
Step 3: Conversational Cues
Now that you are present and deeply listening to a conversation, you are ready for the final step: conversational cues.
Conversational cues are words or phrases used during conversations that can be used to expand or deepen a conversation.
They can be used in 2 ways:
- To share something about yourself
- To ask deeper questions of your conversation partner
Both of these strategies work in charismatic conversations. When you reveal things about yourself, you’re showing vulnerability and increasing likeability.
Remember Step 2? People love talking about themselves. Asking people deeper questions about themselves will make them feel special. It shows you have an interest in them (which is what it’s all about).
Let me show you a few examples (conversational cues are underlined):
What did you do this weekend?
My friends and I went downtown and tried this new Spanish tapas restaurant which was cool. Oh, and on Sunday I saw the movie Deadpool which was amazing.
You can use the conversational cues (underlined) to expand your conversation. They are relevant to the conversation; use them to share something about yourself or ask more questions.
Notice how the conversation started with an open-ended question. It’s not a “yes” or “no” question – it requires an answer with at least a little bit of detail.
So let’s use the conversational cues from the response to continue the conversation.
1. I love going downtown. Have you been to the new spot called Bar West?
2. I love Spanish food. I went to Madrid last year and it was one of my best vacations ever. Have you been?
3. I’ve heard Deadpool is good but I haven’t seen it yet. Would you recommend watching it?
See how you can use topics in the conversation to reveal things about yourself or ask more questions?
In the first example, I’m looking for common ground to see if the other person has a shared experience of going to Bar West. If they did, they are more likely to enjoy conversing with me.
In the second example, I revealed something they did not already know about me: I went on a memorable trip to Spain. This is a first step towards building trust.
By volunteering information, I make them more likely to reciprocate and reveal things about themselves. They can also bounce-back and ask a question related to those travels if they want to know more about me.
In the last example, I used a conversational cue to ask someone’s opinion. Since people enjoy talking about themselves and their viewpoints, it’s a great way to increase likeability.
Action Item #3: Start Observing Conversational Cues
Now that you know about conversational cues, look out for them. Begin observing conversations and how the participants use these cues to keep moving forward.
Take note of how people are using them. Is it to share information about themselves? Or are they asking deeper questions?
The next time you strike up a conversation, pay attention to the conversational cues. Use them to your advantage. I guarantee that your conversations will flow smoother than ever.
Social skills are skills. You can practice, improve, and perfect them. Having the ability to talk to anyone, anytime, anywhere will improve your personal and professional life.
Use the three step process of being present, listening, and employing conversational cues to keep the conversation going. You will come across as likeable and charismatic every time.