When I was younger, I always looked up to my dad as he was able to connect with anyone he talked to, no matter how well he knew them prior to the conversation. I remember spending countless Sunday's staying sometimes almost an hour after church had ended while my dad talked with strangers and friends alike. I always hoped that I would acquire his "talking gene," as my little sister and I called it and that I would be able to talk to people without experiencing the "cringe-worthy" awkward silence.
During my sophomore year of high school, I met Zac Oakes, who is now one of my best friends, that also seemed to have this "talking gene" that I admired so much. Throughout the years of our friendship, I have watched him time and time again connect with strangers that later became friends all while making them feel valued in the small conversations.
While trying to acquire this "talking gene" myself (and also trying to get over my fear of awkward silence), I tried to gain all the tips and tricks I could to get better at talking to people in hopes of one day leaving the same lasting and meaningful effect on others as I have watched my dad and Zac have in so many conversations.
Both my dad and Zac have contagious smiles and after thinking about it more, their impression on the people they talk to starts with their smile! It makes them seem approachable and allow those talking to them to be comfortable. I've also seen that they are smiling throughout the entire conversation, while making eye contact, making the person feel important and valued throughout the conversation.
2. Use what they are wearing to find conversation points.
I got this tip directly from Zac! He said that one of the things he does when he starts talking to someone is that he tries to find out what they are passionate about so that he can connect with them. One of the ways that he does this is by looking at their clothes, water bottles, hats, laptop cases, or bags for logos or things that he can identify with. For example, if a man I am talking to is wearing a Bass Pro Shops hat, I could talk to him about how I worked there over the summer. It opens not only a door for conversation, but also for connection.
3. Ask "who, what, where, when, or why" questions.
I've found that the most awkward conversations come when the questions that you ask a person can be answered with one-word answers. Asking "who, what, where, when, or why" questions allow for the person to elaborate on their life and what's important to them. It also allows for you to once again connect with them.
4. Put the spotlight on them.
It sounds bad, but people love to talk about themselves and their experiences. Asking them questions about themselves keeps the conversation going and accomplishes the main goal of your conversation — to make a connection and make them feel special. It's kind of nerdy to say, but I have found it extremely helpful to come up with questions to ask someone before the conversation starts. That way, if the conversation lulls, you have something to fall back on to prevent the awkward silence.
5. If nothing else, brighten their day!
The truth is that some people don't want to just strike up a conversation with a random person in the middle of a flight on a commercial flight or in a restaurant. So with whatever you do, whether it's a full conversation or even just a smile and a "Hello, how is your day going?" let your presence and effort brighten their day. You have the ability to make at least a small impression and connection, even without the "talking gene."