We've all been there. You're at a family or work event and stuck in a conversation that's going nowhere. When you're in a dead end conversation, it can feel like you're drowning in quicksand. As time passes, you feel more and more awkward, and wonder if you will ever be able to dig yourself out.
Striking up a conversation with strangers or acquaintances, is difficult enough, but having engaging, fulfilling and memorable interactions with everyone that you meet is the true challenge. As a human behavior scientist and host of the Influencers Dinner, a private dining experience attended by famous musicians, Olympians, award-winning actors and Nobel Laureates, I've learned techniques to have better, more natural conversations. I've also learned how to pull myself out of sinking conversations with grace. These six tips can help you navigate any social situation and discussion that comes your way.
1. Always have a story in the cap.
Humans have passed down their knowledge through an oral history for thousands of years. Things that are worth talking about are culturally relevant, so always have something interesting or remarkable to share, and make sure that it is work appropriate. Talk about a book you've read, a conversation you overheard or an interaction you had with a notable thought leader.
2. Find your transition.
Keep the conversation going smoothly, by learning how to transition from topics. I use questions as a way to transition to one of my stories. For example, when someone asks, "How are you?" Use it as an opportunity to direct the conversation. You can say something like, "Great, I just got back from a trip to..." or "Great, I ate at this new restaurant..." Each time you tell a story, shorten it to make it more interesting and engaging. Study how people react each time and master your delivery.
3. Ask open-ended questions about their interests.
Find a topic that the person you are talking to likes to talk about, and ask about it. It can be: What are your favorite TV shows? How do you spend your time when you are not at work? More importantly, what do you do for fun? What are you passionate about? These questions are designed to open people up by discussing their interests.
4. Relax and let someone else be the life of the party.
It doesn't have to be up to you to carry the conversation. If you're tired of speaking, simply invite people that are nearby to join your group. It will refresh the conversation and take the pressure off of you.
5. Use technology to shift the conversation away from you.
In moments of desperation, take the pressure off you completely, and let something else like an interesting piece of content or video do the entertaining. Ask: "Have you seen this?" You can share a video or a TED Talk about an interesting idea. If they haven't seen it, you can pull out your phone, load the video and have them watch it. This gives you something to discuss and a few minutes to recharge. It isn't an ideal situation, but it is better than drowning.
6. Exit gracefully.
Lingering on in a conversation that has lost interest or is going nowhere is one of the most awkward things that you can do, so don't be afraid to make an escape. There are a few ways that you can make an exit.
One way is to have your attention diverted elsewhere. In extreme situations, IFTTT offers an app that will call you. You press some buttons on your phone, and a few moments later it will ring. You can then excuse yourself to take the "call". This may seem childish, but it's better than lingering. Another way is just to excuse yourself, thank them for their time, and move on to another group or location.
The next time that you find yourself in an awkward or boring conversation, you can turn it around with these tips. If that doesn't work, remember to end it and exit gracefully.