A great conversation can be the gateway to many opportunities, personally and professionally. Conversation is an art that many people struggle with for a variety of reasons. By honing your conversational skills, you can become a master of any social situation.

The first step to networking is approaching a new person or group of people. This can be the scariest step of the whole process. Even the most confident person can become intimidated when encountering the unknown.

Take a deep breath and walk up to the person you would like to engage in conversation. If the person is not already engaged, politely introduce yourself and shake their hand. Remembering the person’s name is key. The easiest way to do so is to repeat their name…”Joe, it is very nice to meet you.”

The best conversation starter after exchanging introductions is to ask a question. “What brought you here?” “Have you been here before?” “How do you know the host?” “What would you recommend at the bar?” Utilize the setting to frame your first questions. This will break the ice and help both you and the person you are talking to feel more comfortable.

Make certain that you give the person your complete attention. Keep the conversation going by adding input, without “one-upping” the person. Redirect the conversation to yourself by offering a compliment or your thoughts. Then redirect back to the other person by asking a question.

Pauses in the conversation are natural. Don’t try to fill them with sounds such as um or ah. Even though the word Like is used in many ways. It should never be used to fill a gap in your statement. Avoid using these fillers by taking a deep breath while you collect your thoughts.

The key to approaching anyone is showing confidence with a handshake and remembering their name. After that start slow with questions, but never interrogate. The goal is to create a quick bond that will make both you and your conversational partner feel comfortable.

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