I included a chapter in my book about how to meet people and make a good first impression. But here’s a technique to help you have a good first conversation once you get past the initial introduction and pleasantries: Imagine that within 24 hours of completing the conversation, you’ll be asked to give a 5-minute presentation about this person.
If you knew that you’d later have to tell a room full of people about the person you’ve just met, you’d genuinely want to learn about them. You’d ask questions and listen to the answers. And most importantly, you’d look for interesting things to discuss now so you’d have interesting things to present later.
One of the most respectful, engaging things you can do when you have a conversation is to actually take an interest in what the person has to say. Ask sincere questions and pay attention to the answers. If the person seems to enjoy talking about it, ask a follow-up question. That’s where things usually get more interesting anyway.
You play the oboe?
I’ve never met an oboe player. What made you choose that instrument?
Really, your mom plays, too? Was she happy that you chose it, too? Ever have an oboe jam together?
Now, I’m not suggesting that you turn your first conversation with someone into an interrogation where you fire as many questions as possible like a reporter for a gossip website. It’s a conversation, after all. That means the talking needs to go both ways. And if the person isn’t reciprocating and doesn’t seem all that interested, don’t just plod ahead. Unless you’re stuck on a first date or otherwise committed for a short period of time, just give a polite “It was nice to meet you” and move on.
But most people enjoy talking about things they care about as long as the listener seems genuinely interested. Making the effort to learn about someone is like paying them a compliment. And hopefully, they’ll return the gesture—and the conversation—and try to learn more about you.
Teens who are good conversationalists have better college interviews, too. Many students understandably wait to be asked questions, then answer politely and wait for the next question. If you can be the one student your interviewer meets that day who actually makes an effort to turn your time together into a dialogue, you’re demonstrating that you’re comfortable having a mature conversation with an adult. And you’re giving your interviewer something positive to say when they later present your conversation to the admissions committee.