You’ve probably heard the phrase “having a conversation with them is like pulling teeth,” or some variation of it before. That phrase is especially painful if you’re the one that has trouble talking with people. After all, not everyone is born with the ability to talk to anyone effortlessly. 

Of course, there are simple things you can do to improve your conversational skills like making more eye contact and practicing good body language. But, those tips won’t help you if you don’t know what to actually say in conversations. 

So, if you need actionable tips on how to have engaging conversations with people, whether in your personal life or your professional life, keep reading. 

Check out these 3 ways to improve your conversational skills. 

Ask for their opinion

When you don’t know how to start a conversation or you’re struggling to come up with something to say next, one of the easiest things to do is ask for the other person’s opinion on something. This will not only get you out of a potentially awkward silence, but it will also show the other person that you’re interested in what they have to say. 

For instance, if you’re at a conference and want to start a conversation with someone, you could go up to them and ask “Hey there, do you know a good place to get lunch around here?” Even if that person is visiting from out of town like you are and has no idea where to go for lunch, it could lead into another conversation about where you’ve both traveled from. 

Also, try asking follow-up questions in conversations. If you get into a professional conversation about social proof in marketing with an industry peer, you could ask them a follow-up question like “What in your opinion is the best way to collect user-generated content?” According to a study published in The Cut, follow-up questions are the best questions to ask because they serve as evidence that you’re listening and respect what the other person is saying. 

Diversify your interests

You probably know some people who are able to talk about seemingly any topic under the sun and always have something interesting to say. If you don’t have that particular skill, you probably assume that person must be some kind of genius. But, they might just have a lot of interests.  

If you only have a couple main interests like customer service strategy and fishing, then you can only chime in on conversations relating to those topics. But, if you have a bit of knowledge on 10-15 different subjects, you’ll have a lot more to contribute in conversations.  

So, if you want to have more to say in conversations and relate to more people, you need to spend some time learning about a wider variety of subjects. Listen to podcasts and audiobooks and read more articles and blog posts on numerous topics that interest you. Then, in any conversation, you can bust out a bit of your knowledge on the topic or share your opinion. 

Listen and pay attention

If you’re self-conscious of your conversational skills, being in a conversation with a bunch of new people can be terrifying. While other people in the group are speaking, you’re probably spending the entire time wondering about what people think of you and trying to come up with what you’re going to say next. But, when you do that, you could be missing out on a ton of important clues that give you easy ways to contribute to the conversation or steer it in another direction. So, you need to listen and pay attention. 

For instance, if someone is talking to you about their business and mentions that their company held their most recent yearly retreat in Utah, you might miss those important details if you aren’t listening. But, if you’re paying attention to what they’re saying, you could talk about the last company retreat you went on or how much you love Utah. 

Instead of focusing on yourself and your insecurities, just breath and focus on the conversation so that you can spot those conversation clues. 

Practice makes perfect

Of course, the only way to improve your conversation skills is by putting these tips into action. So, get out there and start talking to people. Try striking up a conversation with someone at the grocery store. You’ll probably never have to see that person again so you can test out your new skills without the fear of judgement.