So there’s this post going around tumblr that says,
you know those people that can literally carry on a conversation with anyone are amazing like wow how do you do that
And while I know this is one of these tumblr rhetorical questions, I bet a lot of people would like to know the answer.
I travel a lot and spend a lot of my time talking to people at hostels, people I’ve never met before and might not ever meet again. I find that people are generally at their best when they’re talking about something that they love. The trick is to find out what they love and get them to start talking about it.
Look at small talk as the time to cast about for something to actually talk about. Most people drop hints, either consciously or unconsciously, about what they *actually* want to talk about. You should listen carefully so that you can take advantage of an opportunity.
For example: Imagine you say to someone, “Gosh, this weather is just out of control. I didn’t know it even could snow this much!” And the person responds, “I know! I can’t wait for the spring to come so that my flowers will grow.” You can answer, “Oh, do you garden?” If the person really does garden, s/he will probably like to talk about it.
Or maybe the person responds to the same prompt, “It’s awful! I had to dig the car out for hours before I could run out for an ingredient I needed.” You can reply, “Oh, do you like to cook?” Even if they don’t like to cook, the story about why they had to run out for an ingredient might be interesting. The point is, you get away from talking about the weather and get on to talking about ANYTHING else.
Even if they don’t give you that specific of an opening, you can still use a similar principle. If you say, “It’s so cold out! I can’t believe it!” And the person says, “I know! I can’t wait for spring.” You can respond, “Do you have plans to do anything special once the weather warms up?”
I know these examples are really cheesy, but I’m just trying to get across the idea that it’s often easy (or at least, easier) to get people talking as long as you ask them about things that they like. So if you’re stuck in a situation where you have to socialize with people you don’t know well, that’s one way to do it. The drawbacks are that you might end up in a conversation that doesn’t excite you all that much, but as I said, people are often at their best when they talk about what they love, so you might enjoy the conversation even if it’s not about something that *you* love. And it’s likely that later on the person will remember you as someone who was nice and easy to talk to.
Hope that helps!
Just to add some more. About getting people to talk about something they love - they will feel a strong bond with you if you can connect their interest to yours in a way that allows both of you to talk about your interests and learn from each other.
For example, if you’re really interested in, say, model trains, and someone is interested in gardening, something you could say is, “You know, that reminds me a bit of my hobby, model trains, because it’s so fun and interesting to put the track together, just like planting a garden.” Then they can go on discussing their garden, and tell you about their favorite plants and so on, and you can both share in a conversation that has good, if different, meaning to both of you.
Being a good conversationalist comes from an idea of flow, an easy exchange where the stories or information transmitted by both parties is enjoyable to give and receive. In order to do that, it’s very helpful to learn a bit about many different topics - which you can do by listening to what other people say and how they say it. People usually love being asked questions about themselves and their interests, and they’ll share a great deal of information with you if you sit quietly and ask meaningful questions. Not only does this make this particular person feel easy and comfortable around you, but you can store that information away for later use in other conversations.
And the funny thing is - being a good conversationalist actually means listening more than talking. Focus your attention on the person in front of you - treat their interests as something fascinating to you, something you’d like to learn more about. Pretend you’re a student and they are the teacher of their area of expertise, and you’d be surprised how much someone will tell you freely. Sometimes the best way to hold a conversation is to listen, catalog the information, and then ask appropriate questions or demonstrate you were listening by bringing up something they said later in the conversation.