Do you think you are public speaking if you are talking to one or two people? Perhaps you are speaking to five to ten people. Or do you need to have 20, 50 or 100 in the audience to consider being a public speaker?
When talking to others, whatever the number of people, you are public speaking. You are speaking to another member of the public.
Some people lack confidence to speak up and speak out when standing in front of a large crowd. Others find they don’t have the skills and/or confidence required for conversations.
Many seem to make conversation look easy. We all know someone who is a non-stop talker. Watch politicians manipulate and direct conversations. Often we can have a good conversation on topics which are familiar such as personal matters, interests, hobbies and work-related subjects. Conversations can be easier with people we are close to or love.
Sometimes, say at a conference, people have the confidence to talk about their subject, yet find it difficult to sit next to a stranger and develop a conversation. At social occasions we often are placed next to someone we don’t know.
Many struggle to find connection, to start and maintain a conversation. For them, making conversation is hard work and for some, to be avoided.
In today’s world where communication is more often conducted through email and social media, speaking to another person face to face can be challenging. Those ‘networking’ functions can be quite stressful. However, skills can be learnt and techniques practised to initiate and maintain a conversation. With knowledge and practice, confidence increases.
Create a habit for comfortable conversation
Exchange facts, express personal preferences and opinions, share your goals and dreams and reveal your feelings.
To overcome shyness:
• Start accepting those nerves, knowing that you can overcome these feelings.
• Remember other people feel nervous, even seasoned public speakers.
• Know that a little adrenalin in your system can help you be your best when speaking.
• Start perceiving floundering or feelings of inability as part of the journey to speak up and speak out
• Remember the acronym FORM – more about this below
• Prepare conversational ideas in advance
• Be up to date with as many topics of general appeal as possible (current affairs, books, films, technology /internet, local issues)
• Use your prepared material as soon, and as often, as possible
Remember the acronym FORM, as this gives you the basic four conversation starters which are relatable for everyone.
F is for Family
O is for Occupation
R is for Recreation
M is for Mutual Interest
Consider the situation where you wish to start a conversation. Depending on the situation you can ask a question from these four starters.
F Do you live nearby? Do you have any children?
O What type of work do you do? Are you working or are you retired?
R What do you do at the weekends? What did you do over the holiday period?
M What is mutual interest? This is something of interest in your immediate field of vision. Here are some examples.
At a wedding: How are you connected to the bride or groom – family or friend? This venue is amazing – what do you like about it?
At a conference: What organisation are you representing? What do you know about the keynote speakers who are giving presentations today?
At a Speaking Made Easy meeting: How long have you been a member of this group? What have you gained by coming to these meetings?
One sure-way to get people talking is to get them talking about themselves.
What do you do for a living? What are your interests outside of work? The use of the acronym FORM will assist you to ask several questions.
Not only can these tips be used to start a conversation, asking such questions can assist you to be included in a conversation or to continue a conversation.
Some other Conversation Starters:
Start with your feelings or mood, however keep it positive.
Start by focussing on something just gone or something about to happen.
Start by asking for advice or a recommendation.
Start by simply introducing yourself.
It is not a good idea to:
Start with something totally unrelated
Start with a wisecrack
Start with a very personal or very direct question
People skills for conversations
• Smile, be pleased to meet the person
• Show interest and curiosity in what others have to say
• Talk slowly so others can digest what you are saying
• Have open body language to show you are approachable – open arms and relaxed hands
• Maintain eye contact to convey confidence and interest in interacting with them
• Be mindful – live in the moment and take on board the non-verbal information as well as what is being said
• Notice some details about a person, speakers, the venue, et cetera and bring these unique aspects into conversation as a compliment or conversational point
• Listen intently to others and comment or build on their thoughts
• Add insights, knowledge, anecdotes which are fascinating when appropriate in the conversation
• Share your thoughts and emotions, at an appropriate level, about the topics being discussed
• Make people feel good – be encouraging, supportive and friendly
How to end a conversation
• If a decision was made, summarise it and the future action
For example: “Seeing we have agreed on fundraising, I will meet you next Thursday, same place, same time to discuss it further.”
• Acknowledge something the person has said during the conversation
For example: “Thanks for telling me about . . . “
• End with a compliment
For Example: “It was great talking to you.”
The more conversations you have, your nervousness will decrease and your communication skills and confidence will increase. So, have conversations at home, with friends, at work, at social occasions, in shops and other public places . . . even in a lift.
The best kept conversation secret is
to practise, practise, practise speaking to other people.