Speaking off the cuff

One of the fun parts of a Toastmasters meeting is something called Table Topics. With Table Topics, you get to speak for one, sometimes two minutes on a topic you’re not prepared for. It’s an exercise geared to practice impromptu speaking — speaking off the cuff.

Knowing how to organize your thoughts quickly can come in handy in a number of situations. Think of those times when you were left on your own to strike up a conversation. Maybe you were invited to a neighbour’s niece’s wedding and seated off to the side at the “friends” table. You know the one.

Not long ago, I attended a business awards dinner. This annual event gathered professionals who were associated through business relationships. They were colleagues, collaborators and friends. For many, it was the perfect event to catch up. For others, like myself, it was a great networking opportunity.

Depending on the situation, meeting someone for the first time can be uncomfortable or maybe even a little awkward. What do you say? How do you start a conversation and how do you keep it flowing? Here are some ideas.

Start with a compliment. A little recognition or expression of praise can set the tone for a friendly relaxed conversation. Compliment the person you’re talking with or perhaps the venue or the endless choices on the buffet. Be sure to pick a topic that will lead to follow-up questions.

Ask about family. People like to talk about themselves and even more their children or grandchildren. Conversations in these areas carry themselves and open the door to two-way sharing.

Find the common ground. Chances are you’re at the same event for a similar reason. Find out what you have in common with a question about the host or business your new acquaintance is part of. For example, “How do you know the groom? or “How long have you been a member here?” can get you started.

Introduce yourself. Why not? Be bold and introduce yourself by name. If you’re at a business function, mention the company you work with or the department you’re in. Be sure to ask the same of your new contact and show interest in their experiences.

Ask a question. I like questions. There are all kinds of probing questions that can lead to a healthy conversation.

Engage with the topics you enjoy. Don’t be afraid to jump in a conversation that interests you. It’s always easier to talk about the things you enjoy and ones that you’re well-versed in. It’s also a great way to make a lasting connection.

Starting a conversation can be uncomfortable, but keep in mind, you’re not the only one in the room who feels this way. People are generally pretty friendly. So get to it. Strike up a conversation!

Published by hdiane2

Quietly practicing something that brings me enjoyment.

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