Conversation is a daily activity, but have you ever evaluated your conversational competency? I always assumed I was a competent conversationalist because Communications is my major and I have a naturally extroverted personality, but after watching a Ted Talk about how to improve conversation, I found some flaws in the quality of my interpersonal communication.

Ted Talks are interesting to watch because they offer insight and lessons on unique topics. Recently, I watched a talk about improving conversation. Celeste Headlee, host of “On Second Thought” for Georgia Public Broadcasting, mapped the key components of maintaining a compelling conversation in her Ted Talk titled, “10 Ways to Have a Better Conversation”.

Headlee noted that conversational competence is a key skill to have, but it is overlooked. How can you advance in the world if you can’t converse? The answer is you can’t.

Conversational competence is something we should all strive for because there’s nothing better than connecting with someone during a good, meaningful conversation. If you actively consider these steps that Headlee mapped out to improving your conversation, you’ll find that the people you converse with are fascinating, and they possess valuable information. Here are some tips to focus on:

1. Don’t Multitask:

This goes beyond staying off your phone. When talking with someone, clear your mind of any topic not relevant to the conversation you are currently in. Stop thinking about everything else you need to get done. If you want to leave the conversation, end it.

2. Don’t pontificate:

Don’t be set in your ways. Put your personal opinions aside and be open to learning something new. Pontificating can potentially deprive you of a learning opportunity.

3. Use open-ended questions:

A mistake in conversations is asking questions using adjectives to describe the situation someone was explaining to you. The problem by already assuming what the situation was like is that the person can only respond with ‘yes’ or ‘no’, which doesn’t enhance the conversation. Instead, ask what the experience was like to allow the person to go into depth by choosing their own adjectives rather than replying with just a simple yes or no.

4. Go with the flow:

I find myself guilty of pre-determining how a conversation will go. I often plan out what questions I’ll ask and what personal experiences I want to bring up. Don’t do this. Let those thoughts go, and provide input based off of what is currently being talked about, not something you were thinking about.

5. Don’t equate your experience with theirs:

Everyone’s experiences are individual. For instance, even though you might both be grieving a loss, you aren’t grieving in the same way. Rather than saying what happened to you similarly, ask questions about the experience.

6. If you don’t know, say you don’t know:

Don’t try to fabricate knowledge on a topic you know little about. People are experts in their own unique topics and if you don’t know something, admit it.

7. Don’t repeat yourself:

Even if you are just trying to make a point, don’t repeat something you already said…it is perceived as egotistical.

8. Stay out of the weeds:

When telling a story, remove unnecessary details such as specific dates, names, and locations. The details are minuscule and the focus should only be on you.

9. Listen:

Telling someone to listen is easier said than done. Listening seems so simple, but it requires energy and effort, which isn’t easy. Headlee said we talk 225 words per minute, but we can hear 500 words per minute. So the 225 words we aren’t hearing from a person are usually filled with random thoughts. To be an active listener, don’t fill in the missing 225 words with random thoughts. Try to focus and create responses that enhance the conversation.

10. Be brief:

Short and simple stories are the best for conversing. Being concise with what you’re saying will keep the person you’re conversing with more engaged.

Now, Headlee made it very clear that you don’t need to practice each tip simultaneously. Focus on one at a time to truly hone in on your conversational skill set.