Don't ramble, and stay positive
This simple advice comes from Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert: "Brevity will slow the inevitable decline in your popularity caused by talking. And saying something positive as often as possible will be a mood booster to whoever is in the room with you. If you set a positive tone, it rubs off." Check out these magic phrases that can save an awkward conversation.
Act like your heroes
Write down the names of the ten most interesting people you know, and list three characteristics that earned them a place on the list, suggests author and speaker Scott Ginsberg on his blog. Then look for patterns and figure out a way to incorporate those characteristics into your own public persona. Find out how to join a conversation at a party without being awkward.
Nail that "Tell me about yourself" question
You know the details intimately, but distilling the most interesting parts of your life into cocktail chatter can be a challenge. Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Chip Heath suggests applying one of these three plots to your life story: either the challenge plot (you overcame an obstacle to get to where you are); the creativity plot (you decided not to follow a traditional path); or the connection plot (you did something similar to the person asking). Learn how to answer 16 of the trickiest job interview questions.
Ask, and listen
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Start with the other person's hobbies, family, or upcoming travel plans, and go from there. If you know about the subject, conversation will flow. If you don't, continue asking questions to understand more—and pay attention to the answers. Steal these things good listeners do during every conversation.
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Listen to podcasts
bbernard/ShutterstockIf slogging through a dense book sounds like the last thing you need, download some interesting podcasts. You can learn quotable tidbits, inspiring ideas, and meaningful stories on your morning commute or while cleaning the house.
Wear a conversation piece
Marus Nazzarov/Shutterstock“Wearing a distinctive clothing item can be a great icebreaker,” writes professional speaker Dorie Clark, who does a lot of networking as part of her job. Choosing a brooch from your trip to Italy or a tie with your college mascot could spark conversation and find some common ground. Don't miss these other 11 ways to make interesting small talk.
Recognize when you’re being boring
Dean Drobot/ShutterstockOf course you’re passionate about the ins and outs of your job, because you spend most of your time with them—but that doesn’t mean everyone else cares. Being interesting means knowing when you’re not, so pay attention to body language. If people listening are glazing over, fidgeting, or scanning the room impatiently, it’s time for a change of subject. (On the other hand, find out how to use body language to build trust.)
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Ask open-ended questions
santypan/ShutterstockIf you want your question to spark a great discussion, stay away from questions that can be answered in one word. Open-ended questions require a more in-depth answer, which gives you both more details to work with. For instance, “How was your weekend?” can be answered with “Good,” but “What was the best part of your weekend?” could launch a story. Try these 37 conversation starters that make you seem more interesting.
Have stories in mind
Syda Productions/ShutterstockYou wouldn’t go into a job interview without prepping a few stories to sprinkle in that show how interesting (and qualified) your experience is. If you know you’ll be at an event where you need to make small talk, dream up a few go-to anecdotes before you arrive. If there’s a lull in conversation, whip one out and get the chatter back. Here are 14 more traits of charismatic people you can steal.
Invest some emotion
Dragon Images/ShutterstockPeople will only be interested in your story if they can relate, whether they’ve had a similar experience or can picture themselves in one, writes author and speaker Bob Caporale. Stories about other people tend to be relatable, while rambling about items—say, your new dishwasher—might not be. Borrow these other 16 habits of naturally charming people.