Talking to a great conversationalist is like magic--the minutes fly by, your brain lights up, and you feel closely bonded to another human mind. No wonder so many of us want to master the seemingly mysterious ability to get past small talk and really connect.

But unless you're naturally gifted with charm and wit, even holding up your end of a conversation can feel daunting. Learning not only to be interesting yourself, but also to guide a conversation and bring the best out of others has to be an tough skill that makes years to master, right?

Nope, responds public radio host Celeste Headlee. In the course of her career she's interviewed thousands of people from all walks of life and learned that sparking a great conversation is really a matter of a few simple habits that anyone can learn. She shared her secrets in a TEDx talk a few years back.

The complete 12-minute talk below is well worth a view in full, but here (courtesy of the excellent blog Kottke) are her essential lessons in bullet point form:

  1. Don't multitask. (Really, don't.)
  2. Don't pontificate.
  3. Use open-ended questions.
  4. Go with the flow.
  5. If you don't know, say that you don't know.
  6. Don't equate your experience with theirs.
  7. Try not to repeat yourself.
  8. Stay out of the weeds.
  9. Listen.
  10. Be brief.

Which of these have you mastered and which do you still need to work on?