WORDS BY SIMON SMITH
Don't you hate it when you're at a party and you're struggling for conversation? You stare at the floor trying desperately to think of something. "Is this laminate or hardwood? The rendering is so realistic."
We've all been there but to prevent you from staying there, here are four ways to help you master the art of conversation.
MASTER SMALL TALK
The fact of the matter is that before you get stuck into a rollercoaster of a conversation with someone you've never met, you need to be comfortable with small talk. The quickest way to generate "phatic communication" is to make an observation about your surroundings. That doesn't mean, "I notice you don't have a wedding ring, is your husband dead?" One, that's plain wrong and two it's a closed-ended question meaning yes or no will do. Better would be, "I love the spread they've put on...how do you know the Johnsons?" Change "Johnsons" as and when.
LISTEN MORE THAN YOU SPEAK
This goes for both self-absorbed narcissists and horribly shy wallflowers. Make sure your mouth is closed more than it's open. Listen like you're taking the most important order in the world. Nod often with lots of hmms, ahhs and really? You want the person to think that you give a shit about what they have to say. But don't forget to smile and crucially offer lots of eye contact otherwise you're just nodding and making sounds. We've included this extremely staged image to demonstrate what listening intently looks like.
If you land on a topic that sparks their interest then keep going along that line. This doesn't mean that if you meet a Neo-Nazi then get them talking about what got them into racism..."So, when did you draw your first swastika?" Don't do that. On the other hand, if you've no idea about a person's set of beliefs then it would be wise to steer clear of topics such as sex, religion and politics. You may come across an asexual Britain First member who worships Satan and hates women which would result in a few awkward moments.
There isn't anything worse than when the person you're chatting to thinks the conversation is an opportunity to get one up. Everything you mention you've done or are doing they've already done. "You've just been to Nepal?...Yeah, when I climbed Everest the weather was cracking." You could call them the been-there-done-that-bought-the-T-shirt people...or twats. Don't be one of them. Even if you've travelled the world twice, be intrigued and interested when they tell you about their trip to Devon.