Verbal conversations are almost non-existent for a lot of us today.  Unfortunately, texting instead of talking is prevalent and accepted by this generation and the longest conversations are sometimes found on social media. It's nothing to see a group of people together, all with heads down, focused on their phones and not vocalizing anything.

Being present to the group, making eye contact and engaging in verbal conversation no longer effortlessly flows.

For those of you who want to re-discover the art of great conversations, you can start by asking questions. Questions are pretty easy and safe because they get the other person talking. It also shows that you have taken the time to think about the conversation in order to have questions to ask.  It’s unlikely you would come up with good questions if you didn’t.  The other person will probably be impressed by this.

Make sure you think about what kinds of questions to ask, though. If the meeting is planned, you can possibly prepare; however, this may not always be possible when confronted with random encounters.  It might be good to have some generic questions to ask, just in case.

So, if you know you will be attending an event, you can prepare what questions to ask. Say, for example, you're going    to  a sales convention. You should learn about the companies that will be attending. You should also try to get background on the notable people within those companies. This is usually easy enough to do through Google - just search the company name. The more you can find out, the better.

Like I said, when you find yourself with a group of strangers, start out with your pre-planned generic questions. "Are you from here? If not, what brought you here?" "How do you know ____, the person who invited you?" "Nice weather today, huh?"  Any of these will likely get the conversation going.  Sometimes, though, you will get one word, curt responses.  If that happens and the person seems irritated, that may be your cue to find someone else to talk to!

When asking questions, it’s okay if you know some of the answers; however, you might not want to reveal to others that you do. Let them champion the conversation by answering the questions themselves.  It helps them feel as though they are in control and that's good because it can open up more discussion. It’s okay if that happens - all you want to do is engage with that person and perhaps meet a contact or a friend.

Asking questions can give you a lot more information than you expected, too!  Some people absolutely love to talk and just one question can open the floodgates.  In social situations, be cautious of the questions you ask to strangers - sometimes they share way too much about themselves and others, which could find you trying to ease away.  It could be, though, that a 'talker' would suddenly volunteer more information than they were intending, and that might end up to your advantage (especially in a business situation).   Encourage that sales person to brag; it could be in your best interest to let them.

Preparing thoughtful questions ahead of time is a great way to get valuable information. It’s also a fantastic conversation starter. When you are prepared in advance, the conversation becomes simply a matter of asking the questions and letting others provide you with answers.  I hope you try this strategy because it works.

Perhaps one day, we will run into each other and we'll both be asking good, substantive questions!  I know you can do this - I believe in you!

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