Conversing is like ballroom dancing. You can’t do it alone, and to do it well, you need to accommodate your partner gracefully. When you’re on a conference call with a bunch of folks or participating in an online meeting, these conversation skills are that much more critical.
How to improve your conversation skills
1. Obey the two-minute rule
Conferencing conversation skill numero uno. Never speak longer than two minutes. This rule applies to parties, interviews, meetings and even a family dinner. Using the two-minute rule is polite because it allows your listener to respond (which is the point of conversation). It also keeps you from rambling. You’ll look smarter if you curb your response to fit a two-minute window.
2. Listen carefully
You think you know how to listen. But actually, most of us don’t. When you are genuinely listening to someone, you won’t have a cell phone visible. You won’t check the clock. You won’t look up when someone walks into the room. This is of the utmost importance when on a video conference when social cues can enhance your communication understanding of the conversation.
You will notice the speaker’s expressions and will be tuned to them, like a radio dial set to pick up a signal. When you’re focused, you’ll remember more of what was said, and for a longer period of time.
Listening is an important business conversation skill, which means it needs to be practiced. Build your listening skills first by shutting out distractions and then listening as carefully as you would like to be listened to.
3. Ask thoughtful questions
Having good conversation skills on conference calls also includes listening. Listening well is a pre-requisite for responding thoughtfully. If you haven’t heard both the spoken and unspoken of what your speaker has said, your questions will miss the mark. The best questions can not only educate you but advance the conversation and get your partner thinking ahead.
4. Never brag
Bragging breaks one of the essential rules of conversation: be polite. It breaks another rule because when you brag, you attempt to put yourself above your conversation partner. If bragging is allowed to go on too long, it breaks a third essential rule of conversation: never be boring.
5. Don’t over or under-share
Talking incessantly about yourself is a conversation killer, but saying nothing about yourself at all can stifle a conversation almost as severely. People open up more when they know they are talking to someone who understands, someone who has had a similar experience. It’s how they know you “get it.”
6. Match their body language
This is another way to show a shared experience, though it is mainly subconscious. Don’t overdo how much you match your partner’s body language; you never want them to feel like you’re miming them.
Tip: Point your toes toward your speaker. This is a subtle but powerful way to focus on them and to demonstrate you are listening.
7. Show respect
Whether you agree with them or not, always honor your conversation partner’s right to their own opinion. Dismissing their ideas is a sure-fire way to end a conversation, and quite a bit of good will, too.
Just like listening, conversing well is a skill. You’ll get better at it as you practice, but you’ll get better at it faster if you’re mindful of these rules.
It’s great to be a star conversationalist, with impressive conversation skills, but this alone won’t be the best reward for your practice. Here’s the best prize: the world is dramatically more impressive when you know how to connect with people.