5 Easy Conversation Tips

Many non-native English speakers agonize when they are invited to socialize after work with colleagues, participate in a networking event, or even attend a cocktail party. The source of their anxiety is not knowing how to act or what to say, concerns about their foreign accent and overall, how to make small talk and establish rapport with others.  The following are some tips for making this situations less stressful, and actually enjoyable.  1.  Be Prepared - Avoid asking questions that result in a "yes" or "no" response. Think about some business or social topics ahead of time and generate some open-ended questions, e.g., "Tell me about your position." vs. "Do you work at....."

  • Work - Who has been influential person in your career?
  • Personal - What is an amazing place you have visited?
  • Family - What has been rewarding about raising your family?
  • Cultural - How do you typically celebrate ________ in your native country?

Avoid potentially sensitive topics, such as politics, religion, salaries or other personal inquiries.

2.  Be First - Look for an approachable (friendly, smiling) person, greet them by introducing yourself, and start up a conversation by making a comment or asking a question. (See examples above).

3.  Use Free Information - Respond to a comment your conversational partner says.

A:  "I like going to the ocean on my summer vacations."

B:  "What is it about the ocean that you most enjoy? "

Avoid interrogating  your conversational partner or jumping from one topic to another. Try to keep the conversation going with a thread of related Q & A. Then, transition logically to the next subject when the conversation has run its obvious course. Imagine that you are in a tennis match and you are trying to keep the ball in play.

4.  Keep the Conversation Going

  • Be interested
  • Be inquisitive
  • Be observant
  • Be attentive and "in the moment" (no texting, etc.)
  • Use verbal and non-verbal cues (lean forward, open posture, good eye contact)

5.  End Conversations on a Positive Note - Be sincere and thank your conversational partner for their time, sharing their story, etc. Also, be tactful when ending the conversation by providing a reason for your departure and make future plans if appropriate, e.g., “Would you like to meet for coffee next week?”

There are many excellent books on the subject of conversational skills and small talk. Ask your trainer for recommendations.