Improve Your Conversation Game

Conversation should be a two-way street. We often assume it is, but how many of us really listen with the intention of learn something? Instead, we frequently think about what we want to say next when we should be listening. When we do that, we aren’t really listening.

Radio host Celeste Headlee talks about how to listen and why it’s important.

Small talk is an important function of everyday life, both in our business and personal lives. Some people are uncomfortable conversing with people – especially strangers – while others see it as a waste of time. As with many aspects of public speaking and conversation in general, understanding the person you want to talk with is a great place to begin.

Ask questions

Look at conversation as a chance to learn something you didn’t know before. If you are at a meeting or a party, go out of your way to say hello to people you don’t know instead of sticking with ones you do. Depending on the setting and the intention of the gathering, ask about their work interest and what brought them into the field. Asking questions opens up the floor for more conversation and gives you an opportunity to learn more about the other person.

Show genuine interest

Making conversation is easier and more fun if you really want to know more about a person. Ask follow-up questions and share common experiences you have had. Try and focus on what the other person is saying rather than what you plan to say next. People can usually tell whether a person truly cares about what they have to say or whether they are just waiting their turn to talk.

Don’t dominate the conversation

Pay attention to how much you are talking. Conversation means that each person is speaking for about half of the time and listening for the other half. If your conversation partner is having trouble getting a word in, pull back and allow her some room to talk. Remember that you are in a dialogue, not giving a speech. Conversely, don’t be shy about speaking up. Conversation runs both ways!

Be aware of the setting

Being aware of the purpose of the gathering will help you determine what kinds of topics and questions are appropriate. If you are at a business gathering, use caution in the kinds of questions you ask. Don’t overshare, especially when discussing your personal life with people you don’t know. Hearing too much about problems in your family can make people very uncomfortable and cause them to avoid you in the future.

Stay abreast of the news

Reading widely on current events, especially within your industry or personal interests, will help you think of discussion tops. It also encourages other people to tell you about their own interests and it gives you something to share when you meet new people in any setting.

Be Yourself

Most importantly, don’t try to be someone you’re not. People want to get to know you, not someone you’re trying to be. Relax and view small talk as something to look forward to by wanting to learn more about the people you meet.

Try incorporating one of these tips next time you are in an unfamiliar setting with people you don’t know.

Let me know how it goes and, if you have any conversation tips to add, I would love to hear from you so leave a comment or question below.

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Skip These 5 Things During Your Speech

Welcome back! I spend a lot of time talking with you about what to do as a public speaker. We’ve covered many of these, such as the best way to begin a speech, end a speech, motivate your audience, use visuals, and much more.

Today I want to flip that on its head by taking a look at some don’ts. Spending some time thinking about and practicing the “don’t” half of “dos and don’ts” can help you break any bad habits you might have. Let’s jump right in.

Don’t apologize.

When you take the stage or podium, your audience is rooting for you. They want to be engaged and entertained. They want to know more about you and what you have to say. Don’t kill that momentum right out of the gate by telling them that you aren’t a good speaker!

Don’t try to be perfect.

As the saying goes, perfect is the enemy of good. Don’t waste time rehearsing over and over and over with the goal of delivering a flawless speech. It’s more important to know your subject well enough to be able to talk comfortably about it. Michael Nuendorff talks about the importance of not trying to be perfect.

Don’t read your presentation.

Your audience is there to hear you and what you have to say, not read. If they were there for a reading, you could have easily sent them an email or handed out a flyer. They want to hear what you think about the subject. Your presence includes more than your voice. It’s your engagement with them through your gestures, stage presence, facial expressions, and everything else you bring with you that they want to experience.

Don’t race through your presentation.

If you are especially nervous, take a couple of deep breaths and release them on the way to the front of the room. When you face the audience, smile and relax before you begin speaking. We spoke previously about how to use a pause effectively and one of the ways was at the beginning of your presentation. Having some water nearby if it’s possible can help you take a moment to slow down once or twice during your talk. It is all too easy to turn a 20-minute presentation into a 10-minute one and leave the audience in the dust, wondering what you just said. Practice slowing down and making eye contact with individual people as you speak.

Don’t try to be someone you aren’t.

Just be yourself. If you’re not a truly funny person, don’t try to be a comedian during your speech. There is nothing worse than a joke badly told. Being your own honest self is the most effective path to audience engagement.

In a nutshell…

  • – Be yourself
  • – The audience is rooting for you
  • – Hit the brakes if you’re talking too fast
  • – You aren’t perfect (Don’t pressure yourself to be!)
  • – Consider your audience; why are they there and what do they need from you?

Do you have any “don’ts” to add? Let me know what you thought about today’s topic!

Please leave a comment below or let me know any questions you have. Give these hints a try and let me know what you think!


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Fail Harder For Better Results

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” -Thomas Alva Edison

Mr. Edison had no shortage of things to say about failure.

I recently did a presentation on the subject of failure. It’s something so many of us fear, but wisdom reminds us that failure is how we learn. When you lose something and spend time looking and looking all over the place for it before you finally find it, do you ever say, “Dang! It’s always in the last place I look!”

Think about that.

It’s always in the last place you look because once you find it, you stop looking.

That is what Edison meant when he said,


“Negative results are just what I want. They’re just as valuable to me as positive results. I can never find the thing that does the job best until I find the ones that don’t.”

It’s all in the attitude you bring to the doing that enables you to carry on to the done.

So, what can you learn from a failure that will bring you closer to success the next time around? The key to learning is letting go of any shame or embarrassment that may be holding you back. It is important that you look at your efforts as objectively as possible, as if you we advising a good friend.


Did you plan each step of your speech or presentation? Or did you fly more by the seat of your pants? People often procrastinate on the planning step because they are afraid of failure or because their nerves have them too worried to focus. Just take one piece of the presentation at a time. Consider creating an outline, writing the speech, and then going back with any visuals and vocal variety you can add ahead of time. If you neglected any of these steps, and things didn’t go well, you have an opportunity to make corrections.


How much did you prepare for your speech by practicing? Did you practice at all? Failure is a great opportunity to think back to the days and weeks before your speech. Great speakers, great athletes, great musicians, almost all of the great performers in every arena spend time practicing before they step into the spotlight. There is no doubt in their mind about what they will say or do during a performance. Another way to practice is by recording yourself giving your speech and looking for ways to improve your performance.



What kind of feedback did you get before, during, and after your speech? Before you give your speech, you can practice delivering it to a trusted friend or colleague. Tapping someone whose skill you admire is a great way to gain valuable knowledge about others see you and what you can do better. Did you notice expressions on the faces of the people in your audience during your speech? Did they appear engaged? Were there any wrinkled foreheads, slight frowns, or tilted heads that might indicate they didn’t fully grasp the concepts you discussed? And afterwards, did you have a chance to talk to attendees and get their take on how it went or what the takeaway was for them? These are all great ways to learn how you can do even better next time.

It’s Your Turn

Take a look at a presentation that didn’t go as well as you wanted and apply some of the methods for improvement we have discussed here. Let me know how it went and then sign up for my weekly newsletter for more great tips on being the best speaker you can be!

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Use Passionate Storytelling

Why You Should Tell Stories: Storytelling is an ancient form of passing on experience and wisdom. It’s also an effective tool in presentations and speeches. Stories create buy- in, making your audience want to know what happens next. But why are they so effective? Let’s take a look at three reasons storytelling works so well in professional settings in the video by Cultures AT Work below.

You’ll see that a well-told story invites your audience into an intimate setting, even in the largest of auditoriums.

How to Make Your Story Resonate:  Not just any old story will do. There are ways to improve your storytelling that will have a greater impact on your audience. Start by making it personal.

Make it Personal: The best stories come from your own personal experience. If you have lived through something yourself, you are the best person to talk about it. We know that they affect brain chemistry, too! The brain of a person listening to a story mirrors that of the teller’s and creates a powerful connection. It’s also easier to talk about something you have been through and learned from yourself. Stories about challenging personal experiences will create empathy in your listeners and make them want to root for you. Allow your emotions to show. Just as you should avoid reading an entire speech from your notes, you should avoid sounding like you are reading entries from a dictionary when you talk about your experience.

Identify the Parts: A good story has a beginning, middle and end. These three parts are often used as hooks on which to hang the parts of your story. Without them, your story can turn into a novel, where you ramble on and risk losing your audience along the way. Think about the last time you attended a wedding or other gathering where stores were shared. Was the story brief and compelling with a kernel of wisdom or humor included? Or did the speaker ramble on for several minutes, making everyone wonder what the point was? Having the parts of your story in mind as you speak will serve as a mental outline to help you get from beginning to end while keeping your audience engaged.

Rehearse and Record: The ubiquitous nature of cell phones with high-quality cameras makes it easier than ever to do some self-coaching. Prepare your remarks and your story and then record yourself making your presentation. Seeing yourself as your audience does makes is much easier to adjust your performance. Remember, storytelling is a performance and you are the actor! Take notes on what you want to improve and make changes, recording and reviewing until you like what you see.

Polish Your Storytelling Skills: Work on creating a great story for your next presentation by considering something that happened to you that connects to your next talk. Identify the beginning, middle, and end, and think about how it impacted your life. Practice integrating the story into your speech and record yourself making the presentation. How did it go? Let me know what you thought and how you made changes to your story based on what you saw.

For more on storytelling be sure to read the post Storytelling: Win Over Any Audience.  Also join the conversation below to tell me what you thought.

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