Conversations hold a lot of power. They make your intentions clear, establish bonds between you and others, and can make or break a first impression when you meet someone new. The words you choose to use and how you choose to use them can make you seem smart, foolish, warm, distant, bold, shy, or anything in between.
If you're out to make a powerful impression and garner more respect and admiration in a professional environment, the way you present yourself through conversation is vitally important. Consciously or unconsciously, powerful people tend to adopt and use these seven habits, all of which lead to a more powerful, memorable presence:
1. They have something worth saying. First, they almost always seem to have something worth saying. This isn't because powerful people naturally have more interesting things to say than the average person; it's because when they think of something to say, they hold onto it, think critically about whether it's worth saying, and if it isn't, they let it go. Not every thought that enters your head is a valuable contribution to the conversation, and not every piece of small talk is worth going through. If you don't have anything meaningful to say, don't worry--just wait until you do.
2. They aren't afraid of silence. Effective speakers and powerful conversationalists understand that there's more power in silence than there are in empty words. Instead of trying to fill empty space in the conversation with more sentences, or filler words like "um" and "uh," they simply stop speaking. The extra pauses in the conversation give both participants time to think carefully about what's actually happening. It makes your sentences seem more thoughtful and put together--even if they're not. If you get to a point in the conversation where neither party has anything to add, don't be the one who rushes to fill the silence. Wait, allow the silence to work for you, and jump back in only when you're ready.
3. They don't dominate the conversation. Instead of talking all about themselves, powerful people tend to let other people do the talking. They ask meaningful questions about the other party's life, ideas, and progress. This is more than just being polite--talking about yourself actually triggers a pleasure sensation in the brain, so when a powerful person gets another participant to talk about himself, that second participant instantly becomes more invested, and walks away feeling more attached and rewarded by the experience. Contribute to the conversation on your own, but don't forget to give the other person plenty of time to talk.
4. They don't argue. That is to say, they never argue directly. Direct forms of arguing like "that's wrong," or even "I disagree" instantly make you the antagonist in a conversation, and can make you seem more petty or less of a positive contributor. Instead of arguing, present a different opinion. Offering a phrase like "I can see your point, but there's another perspective here" or "I once read something that suggests otherwise" allows you to express your opinion, but in a way that deflects the direct counterpoint to another source. In the end, it makes you seem smart for bringing it up but never diminishes your authority or maturity.
5. They avoid buzzwords, clichs, and euphemisms. Buzzwords, clichs, and euphemisms are all different types of words and phrases, but they all share a commonality; they don't carry meaning by themselves. Buzzwords and clichs are overdone, and because of that they lose meaning over time. Using them in a conversation subtly implies that you aren't clever enough to think of the words to describe what you actually mean. Euphemisms are often meant to be tactful, but are often done in a way that intentionally obscures a speaker's true intention. In short, it makes you seem overly slick or deceptive. Try to speak your thoughts as clearly and as directly as possible.
6. They use simple words. The next time you listen to a powerful conversationalist, pay careful attention to how many big words they use. Chances are, they won't use many. Those long, complicated, highly specific terms may look great in writing, and they may work for specific purposes, but in the context of conversation they might confuse your audience. Even if they don't, they can make you seem pretentious or make you seem like you're showing off. Instead, powerful communicators rely on simple, few-syllable words to express themselves.
7. They have varied, dynamic intonation. Any repetitive patterns of intonation instantly diminish the power of a conversation. For example, if you speak to someone in a low monotone with no differentiation, you'll seem dull and uninteresting. If you have a habit of adding an upward inflection to the end of your sentences, you might seem immature or foolish. Instead, the most powerful speakers use a wide variety of different tones and inflections to add a layer of emotional expression to their words. It captivates an audience and makes you seem more in control of your speech.
Try using these conversation habits to make a bolder, more significant impression on your audience, whether that's a team of coworkers or an individual stranger you met on the subway. The more often you practice them, the more naturally it will come to you, and eventually, you won't have to think about it. Try speaking to as many people as possible to sharpen your skills.