Monday, February 01, 2010

Strike a Conversation; There's Nothing to It.

Speech Delivered by Gege C. Sugue
Speech Project One: Conversing with Ease
Advance Speech Manual: Interpersonal Communication
Time: 10 to 14 minutes
Objectives of the Speech:
  • Identify techniques to use in conversing with strangers
  • Recognize different levels of conversation
  • Initiate a conversation with a stranger
  • Use open-ended questions to solicit information for further conversation

Good evening, fellow toastmasters. Good evening, guests, or as I like to call you, new friends. Talking about new friends, let me take a poll about the kind of socializers we have here in this room. In every social gathering -- a party, seminar, meeting -- there are 2 types of people. One group I call the friendsters, and another the shysters. A friendster is one who is comfortable entering a room full of strangers, making friends, and by the end of the evening, he has 125 business cards and one of his new-found friends has invited him to be a godson to his first born. Who among you is a friendster? (Show of hands) I admire you because I'm from the other group. The shysters.

Shysters, don't be shy, raise your hands. Shysters are uncomfortable, even scared, making new friends. Though I usually have the courage to go alone to social events, when I get there and I'm confronted with a sea of strangers, I get intimidated, anxious, and I start looking for familiar, friendly faces. It takes a while for me to warm up. Or that's why I always volunteer to be an organizer, so I have an excuse to approach people officially.

That is why this project has been helpful to me. This Toastmasters manual shares techniques for striking conversations with strangers. And I'm sharing these with you. To help you remember, let me share the EASE approach.

Ease into the conversation.
Ask open-ended questions.
Sincerely listen.
Equip yourself.

Ease into the Conversation. Don't set silly goals like wowing people with your charming wit or persuading them you're the best in anything. Start light and easy. This reminds me of college parties. One of those college parties was held at our home. And my then 6-year-old brother would go to my friends and start the conversation with, "What do you think of levitation?" That freaked out my friends and confirmed what they suspected all along, that I come from a weird family. That is NOT the way to ease into a conversation.

According to the manual, there are 4 levels of conversation. The first level is Small Talk. Small, chewable, easily processed bits of conversation. Stay within topics that most people can relate to. Avoid controversy and opinions. That's why the weather is a favorite topic for small talk -- everyone can relate to it, and hardly anyone will be offended when you talk about the nice, nippy weather we've been experiencing lately. Or you can talk about the event or the venue -- "I love the decor here." And the best way to start a conversation is with a sincere compliment -- "I've been admiring your necklace; it goes very well with your outfit."

The second level involves Fact Disclosure. You can share general details about your job. Or for the ladies, maybe you can mention that you are married -- "My husband enjoys golf too." Of course, you need to be judicious about the facts you disclose. It's not the time to share your passwords and salary level. Steer clear of divisive or sensitive topics like sex, religion, and politics unless the event calls for it and circumstances allow it.

When you both get more comfortable, you can move on to the 3rd level and start sharing Viewpoints and Opinions. You can share your stand on certain issues. You can talk about likes and dislikes. And when asked, you can voice your opinions. But still make sure you don't offend; be diplomatic. Tread carefully. Don't insult any personality; you never know if the other person is related to the person you're insulting.

And only at level four can you share your Personal Feelings. Not everybody needs to get to this level, but if you connect well with the other person, then you can share your more intimate sentiments. But still keep it positive. Talk about your passions, the things that make you happy or positively excited.

A conversation can go from level 1 to level 4 in a matter of minutes, or maybe it would take more than 1 meeting. Just make sure to ease through the levels. Do not leapfrog from level 1 to level 4, skipping the other steps -- "Hi, I'm Juan Smith, and I'm afraid I might have contracted syphilis in my last foreign trip." Ease into the conversation.

The next tip is to Ask Open Ended Questions. Oftentimes, we struggle dealing with strangers because we're too self-conscious. We worry about sounding silly, looking stupid, committing a social faux pas. No wonder we're so nervous. The way to deal with that is deflect the attention to others. Focus on the other person so you don't worry about yourself. Ask them questions. Let them talk, so they will be the ones to say something silly. ;) It helps to ask open ended questions, questions that begin with why, what, how. This gives them an opportunity to share more information and opinions.

When you ask questions, you make sure you Sincerely Listen. Again, I remember teenage parties way back when it was still normal for guys to come and ask girls to dance. In the middle of the dance floor, while C'mon Feel the Noise is playing, attempts at striking conversations usually end up as major failures because even when you ask a question, you don't really hear the answers. Worse than external noise, however, is internal noise. Set aside other concerns that may distract you. Do not worry about how you look or sound. Listen sincerely, actively. Listen with your ears to the words. Listen with your eyes through eye contact. Check if the words are in congruence with the facial expressions. Use body language -- lean forward, nod attentively and appropriately. Laugh and react at the right time. Sincerely be interested in the other person, and you can engage better and converse with more ease.

Lastly, Equip Yourself. Build in yourself an interesting personality by being aware of hot topics that other people might be interested in. Do your research -- read books and magazines; watch TV; and scan the internet. Be abreast of current events and form opinions and stands on certain issues. You never know when you have to strike a conversation that can boost your career or improve your life.

Just remember that conversations can be EASEy. Style and confidence guru Madonna says, 'Strike a pose; there's nothing to it." I say, it's easy. Strike a conversation; there's nothing to it."

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