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Strike up a Great Conversation

Aspiring writers tell me that there will be times when they have all kinds of ideas floating around in their heads. But when they sit down to write, the ideas abandon them. It's hard for me to relate because I've never encountered a new document or a blank piece of paper that I wasn't eager to write on.

I'm eloquent and prodigious when writing. However when I must be verbal, my communication challenges begin.

About seven or eight years ago I went to a literary event right before a big book festival. After the event when the audience members were either dispersing or lingering to chat, a man came up to me and asked if I was one of the event organizers. Being fully aware of my less than stellar socializing skills, I was trying to make my escape when he stopped me. Without thinking I blurted out, "No, I'm nobody." I didn't mean that literally, but I groaned inwardly knowing what was going to come next. The man scolded me for saying such a thing. I was so mortified I can't even remember what I said in response. Knowing me, I probably apologized to him for dissing myself!

While I usually know what to write, I don't always know what to say. Don Gabor's book How to Start a Conversation and Make Friends is for people like me. In How to Start a Conversation (which I borrowed from the library), Gabor states that feeling out of sorts in a room full of strangers is certainly not uncommon. "Surveys show that many people feel uncomfortable in a room full of strangers and are anxious," writes Gabor.

Body Language

If you go to an event and want to make friends, you must look like you’re open to the possibility. Recently I attended a neighborhood event—a sidewalk soirée--and I caught myself with my arms crossed as I waited in line for food. “Standing or sitting with your arms crossed makes you appear closed to contact,” states Gabor. Instead you should welcome conversation with “open arms,” suggests Gabor. Once I opened my arms—and thus myself--I had a long chat with a woman behind me. I discovered that she is a life long resident of the neighborhood and is also a jazz vocalist. I collected her name, telephone number and made note of an upcoming concert series where she will be performing.

Introduce Yourself

I’ve learned that it’s best for me to have an introduction at the ready so that my mind doesn’t go blank. When I’m at a local event—like the sidewalk soiree—I know that my neighbors want to know where I live so I introduce myself by saying “I’m Leah, I live on _______ Street. Do you live around here?” I’ve lived in this neighborhood since 1997 and am very familiar with the area. So when I find out where someone lives I can respond saying something like “Oh you live near Peaches. Do you ever go there to eat?”

Find a Common Interest

I’m writing this article on a Saturday afternoon and I’m in the laundromat. About a half hour ago a lady walked by me with a book that had a very familiar looking back cover. “Is that Joel Osteen’s new book?” I asked. She responded saying yes, she’d just purchased it earlier in the morning. As it turned out, I had attended a Joel Osteen signing just the previous Thursday. I told her this and our conversation was launched.

Gabor calls these points of interest, “hot buttons.” “It’s important to find other people’s hot buttons as soon as possible because these strong interests are extremely fertile areas for sustained conversations,” states Gabor. “The sooner you find the other person’s hot buttons and reveal your own, the more energetic and stimulating conversations you’ll have.”



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