wikiHow to Be Good at Conversations

Five Methods:Learning from othersStarting a conversationTaking turns in conversationsJoining an already started conversationAdvancing your skills in the art of conversation

Conversations can feel confusing at times. Indeed, you'll probably often wish they were a lot more fun and less hard work. If you're mind goes blank when you're about to speak or you feel as if you can never get a word in edgewise, it's time to polish up your conversation skills and put some of the fun back into conversing with people.

Method 1
Learning from others

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    Spend time around groups of good talkers. This way you can figure out good conversation moves naturally. It lets you sponge up the ability easily with little effort. If good talkers are hard to find, it means the people in your zone need your help.
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    Take note of whether the conversation is from a first, second or third person perspective. Conversations often flow from one perspective to another - you may be discussing a political situation (third) and then give your opinion (first) and then ask what somebody else thinks (second), but keeping an ear on the predominant perspective is a good way to maintain the flow. If everyone is focused on discussing somebody's relationship dramas and you keep bringing the conversation around to your own, people may get annoyed, unless it contributes something to overall point of the discussion.
    • Is the group sharing personal stories that relate to the topic? For example when discussing food, people may recount travel stories about interesting places they've eaten - sharing personal stories is usually a first person ("I") perspective.
    • Are you all discussing a particular situation that someone in the group is going through? For example you are helping a friend out with a relationship problem. This is often done in second person ("you") - though the person you are discussing will be speaking in first ("I").
    • Are you discussing concepts, politics, culture or other topics not directly relating to the people in the group? For example you are talking about a new album that has been released, or something you saw in the news. This often takes the form of third person ("they").

Method 2
Starting a conversation

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    Position yourself comfortably. At the start everyone settles into a comfortable distance from one another. Aim to stand or sit as close to them as they are to you.
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    Introduce yourself to the group. It is customary for each person to get the chance to introduce themselves. It can be a nod of the head or a simple Hello, and its nice to give your name if you wish. Standard phrases like ‘how are you?’ and ‘I’m fine, what about you?’ are often used to build up good feeling among the group. Experiment with phrases like this. Conversations follow a general pattern: the greeting, the body of the conversation and the farewell. The main body follows the greeting.
    • People now take it in turns to talk. Appreciate and support the conversation as it unfolds. Its perfectly all right, and actually valuable, to remain in the listener role for as long as you wish.
    • The farewell: After a while, the conversation will come to an end and people will say goodbye to each other.
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    Start a conversation yourself.
    • Create a comfortable atmosphere of approachability. Do this with your posture, your position, your tone of voice and a friendly face.
    • Guide the bubble of atmosphere toward the people you wish to converse with.
    • Invite people into the conversation. Do this with an Opening Question. Make the opening question easy and comfortable to answer. Or, make an opening observation about some feature of the situation you both share.
    • Encourage and support the conversation. (Rather like being the host at a mini-party.)

Method 3
Taking turns in conversations

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    If offered a speaking turn by one of the others, use the opportunity well. For example they might ask you a question. Or, the offer to speak might be made through a gesture, non-verbally.
    • Invite yourself to take a speaking turn. There are always small pauses in the conversation as the current speaker reaches the end of her point. Take advantage of the pause to launch into your contribution. However, someone else might try to start talking at the same moment. There is usually a little friendly rivalry before the group decides who should continue the turn. It might be you!
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    Say what you feel moved to say. As we listen to the ebb and flow of conversation, we find ourselves stirred with feelings, ideas and reactions. Respond to these inner promptings but, at the same time, relate to what has gone before - blend in and blend out.
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    Unleash your powers of evocation. Conversation is very different to written language because it’s like music. It has rhythm, melody, harmony, spontaneity and movement. Qualities that are just as important as the lyrics. Orchestrate your powers of evocation by variations of voice-tone, face expressions and hand gestures.
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    Discover that ideas come to you as you speak. But if they don’t, use conversation moves that let you hold the floor whilst you catch up with what you want to say, for instance: stock phrases, repetitions, "um"s, "ah"s, and other exclamations, hesitations and questions out loud to yourself. Certain teachers used to admonish us about these things (think before you speak); but they were misguided. If your having fun, it doesn’t matter whether it always makes sense. In fact it’s even sometimes necessary to pass through phases of non-sense in order to reach higher levels of sense.

Method 4
Joining an already started conversation

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    Approach the group. Become an interested bystander for a short while.
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    Nudge a little nearer and see if they welcome you. This is usually indicated by subtle gestures and shifts in position to accommodate you.
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    Help to support the conversation by listening to the others and appreciating their contributions.
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    After a while, offer a gesture of farewell and leave.

Method 5
Advancing your skills in the art of conversation

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    Learn the structure of a conversation. This is simple: The greeting. The body of the conversation. The farewell. Greetings and farewells vary from simple to elaborate depending on the culture, but they follow a standard pattern. Both greetings and farewells are opportunities to swap names and to create a good feeling by wishing people well.
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    Listen to the ongoing conversation. After your greeting, there is no need to launch into an impressive monologue! Its much better to spend time listening to the ongoing conversation. You will pick up clues about people's interests, and you will automatically begin to pick up the rhythm of the conversation as it flows from person to person.
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    Don’t feel obliged to follow everything. It’s easy to be so overwhelmed by what everyone else is saying that you get mesmerized and no longer able to follow your own train of thought. Learn some breakout strategies to give yourself a rest and time to put together your own thoughts.
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    Listen out for, and join in with exclamations. Exclamations are expressions of feeling. When people agree with what is being said, they might call out “yes” or similar vocalizations to that effect. When they disagree, they might make other vocalizations that express this.
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    Consider your purpose within the conversation. Examples of conversational purpose:
    • Promoting fun and conviviality.
    • Investigating a topic.
    • Giving out information.
    • Encouraging or persuading people to do something.
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    Consider the risk value of what you are saying. Murmuring along with everyone else is an enjoyable and low risk way of being in the conversation until you build more confidence. Asking people questions about things they want to talk about is very much appreciated and also low risk. Talking about yourself can often feel high risk but it is safe when you cover standard topics. Moving onto very personal topics, political or religious topics increases the risk of disagreement and embarrassment but it doesn’t mean you should always avoid them. Try to match the level of depth and seriousness of the other conversationalists more or less.
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    Include the quieter members of the group. To get the most out of a conversation it's important to hear from everyone, not just the dominant personalities. It doesn't mean demanding they speak or peppering them with questions, but just looking at them as you speak and making them feel they are included. Leaving a bit of time after someone has finished speaking also allows a less confident person to have their say without having to jump in too quickly.
    • If you notice someone is speaking but not including the quieter people, you can direct their attention to them as they are speaking to you. For example, if you have just finished talking it's common for the next speaker to direct their attention to you, since they may be addressing a point you just made. If they are focused too heavily on you however, it's possible to direct their gaze to other people in the group simply by looking at them yourself. It works because when you are looking into someone's eyes and they look somewhere else, it's natural to follow their gaze.
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    Remember the old show business adage, ‘Best to leave them wanting more.’ Less information is appreciated––it gives others the space to talk and it gives you something more to say next time. The mystery can't hurt you either!


  • The possibility of conversational frustration is built into the arithmetic of the situation. With three in a group, each person gets two thirds of the time listening and only one third of the time to talk. If the number grows to ten, you get 9/10ths of the time listening and only 1/10 talking. In other words, most of the time is spent listening, even if everyone is keen to talk.
  • Conversation fears.
    • Fear that you won’t be noticed or allowed to join in.
    • Fear that you won’t be able to think of anything to say.
    • These fears seem a bit contradictory, but most people experience these fears at some level. It’s perfectly natural and we can utilize the fear to remind us to learn, practise and become more skillful.


  • Maintain your own safety. You might occasionally strike up a conversation with someone who latches on to you in some way. Perhaps they misread it as a more intimate situation; perhaps they see a chance to take advantage. Plan how you would get back to a position of safety before getting in to such a situation.
  • In any conversation there is a risk of losing social standing if you say things considered way out of line. But there is also the opposite risk of losing social standing if you are seen to lack confidence in your own values and opinions.
  • These guidelines apply to English speaking regions of the West. In other regions the customs may be different, for instance there might be a set order for taking Talking Turns based on your status within the community.

Article Info

Categories: Conversation Skills