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7 conversation tips for people who hate small talk

For those of us who aren't the life-of-the-party types, holiday events come with a side of dread. Here are a few tips to make it easier!
/ Source: TODAY

The holidays are in full swing — as are the onslaught of cocktail parties, work parties and family events. For those of us who aren't the life-of-the-party types, these events come with a side of dread. Small talk just isn't easy for everyone! Here are seven easy tips to help you feel less awkward, and more charming:

1. Stop thinking you're awkward.

Our "internal monkey chatter" is often negative, and can bring us down. We are usually harder on ourselves than anyone else. If you're allowing negative thoughts like, "I'm terrible at small talk," you're telling yourself a bad story, and thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Change the story with an easy mantra, like "I am a great conversationalist and a great listener. I've got this!"

2. Look approachable.

We all think we look approachable, but we truly have NO idea what our faces look like. Do people say you look intimidating? Do people often ask you, "What's wrong?" or "Why are you sad?" You may wear a facial expression that looks intense, scary, sad or angry.

People want to talk to positive, friendly, happy looking people, so think about making the other person feel good in your presence — and the best way to do this is with a smile. A smile often unconsciously tells people you are friendly, happy and approachable.

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3. Be socially generous.

Start with the mindset that you are looking for what is good in people all around you. Then, when you see someone you're interested in, you can find something nice about them and say it. If the compliment is sincere — the person receiving it will be flattered and respond. It's a great way to ice break, and make someone feel good. You can comment on something they're wearing, doing, or whatever seems natural and not too personal.

4. Listen for the conversational treasure.

Conversational treasures are everywhere if you listen for them. These are what I like to call "gems" that people throw casually into conversation. Normally, we miss tons of these because we're too busy thinking about our own responses — and not listening!

Listen for what they're interested in or what they're proud of. For example, if you ask your chat mate, "How was your day?" If they respond, "It was great — I got off of work early and went to a Shred class which made me feel so much better." What was the treasure here? The Shred class! You can ask what it is, where it is, what kind of workout, why they like it and this can easily become a ten-minute conversation — just by finding that one treasure!

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5. Offer your own conversational treasures.

If someone asks you, "So, what's new?" to break the ice — don't say, "Oh nothing really. Same old." Instead, say, "Work has been great — I love my new job, and I'm getting ready to take a vacation to the Caribbean with my family soon." This makes conversation MUCH easier for your partner too.

Many social people complain about talking with shy people and having to carry the full weight of the conversation. Think of a good conversation like a tennis match — where you want to hit the ball back and forth over the net so it doesn't drop!

6. Have stories to tell.

Since the beginning of time, people have loved being regaled with a good story. Think of some fun experiences unique to your life (hint: travel, childhood, work, car trips gone wrong) and be ready to tell the stories when relevant. Keep in mind that when you're just meeting someone, you want the stories to be short, sweet and with a point, so your listener doesn't feel trapped for a 20-minute tale.

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7. Know how to make a graceful exit.

Every now and then you'll get stuck talking with someone and you don't know how to leave politely. Here is my favorite "exit script" with my imaginary conversational partner Mike, who is obsessed with sailing:

"Mike, it's been wonderful chatting with you. I made a promise to myself that I'd meet ten new people tonight — although I could stand here and chat with you all night. I hope to reconnect with you later tonight (with good news about making my goal!) — and thanks again for the great tips on sailing."

Following these tips will make small talk seem far less daunting — and maybe even fun! When your friends see you chatting with lots of new strangers, you can school them on your new strategies.