Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Avoiding Awkward Moments in Conversation

How to improve your conversation skills.

Key points

  • Face-to-face meetings can be anxiety-producing, even if one is naturally outgoing or has communicated with the other person before.
  • Keeping a mental list of conversation starters can help ease anxiety before meeting someone.
  • Having a well-rehearsed, yet natural-sounding, story prepared can fill in gaps in a conversation when necessary.

Are you an extreme extrovert that marches through meetings with attractive people like a military tank, fully confident and well-armed with social chatter ready to be discharged? Great.

But what if you are not a natural extrovert? Even if you are naturally outgoing, meeting a new person who you hope to connect with can be challenging. Some meetings, with a new date, a business client, or a person you admire, can be intimidating. For many people, these meetings can be tense, regardless of how the meeting was arranged. Even after e-mails, texts, phone exchanges, and perhaps a mini-date, full face-to-face meetings can be anxiety-producing.

Panic Averted

What if there's a lull in the conversation or you find yourself at a loss for words? First, it is helpful to be prepared with a mental list of conversation starters. Not only will these seeds keep the dialogue moving and interesting but knowing that you are prepared will go a long way toward quieting your nerves. Keep these questions in mind and you'll find it easier in your next social encounter:

What do you like best about yourself?

Who are your heroes?

What is your greatest temptation?

How did you come to your career?

What kind of talent would you most like to have?

What makes you happy?

What kinds of things really irritate you?

What was the craziest thing you ever did?

What event in your life would you like to play over, and why?

What kinds of things do you find yourself thinking about most often?

One Size Doesn't Have to Fit All

Do some of these questions not work for you? Not to worry. The point is to be prepared, regardless of the questions you have ready, to keep the conversation moving. The key is to ask open-ended questions (those that cannot be answered in one word) that explore your meeting partner’s interests, likes, and dislikes.

Most people are flattered when a person takes an interest in them, and both men and women enjoy talking about themselves, especially if the questions stimulate their thinking. In fact, I have passed this approach by several people and the consensus is along these lines: “He or she’s interested in me!” and that’s a good thing.

Keep It Going

Remember to ask follow-up questions, such as: How did you come to that interest? What do you enjoy about that? Pose these same questions to yourself and give your answers some thought before your meeting or date. Adding your own ideas to the conversation will provide give-and-take and will serve as a great base for a flowing, lively, enjoyable conversation. What's more, bringing in your own thought-out responses lets your date learn about the real you without the pressure and anxiety of having to think on your feet.

The Safety Net

But what if after all that there is still that dreaded lull? It can happen, and there is a solution for that as well. Look your meeting partner in the eye and spontaneously remark, “I don’t know why I just thought of this, but…” Of course, that ploy was far from spontaneous; it was another element of your “just in case” preparation. It is followed by an interesting story you’ve rehearsed so well that it doesn’t sound rehearsed.

My experience with both of these strategies—open-ended conversation starters and the “spontaneous” “I don’t know why…”—is that the preparation alone will relax you so well into the flow of the conversation that you won’t need them, but they work and they are there if you do.

More from Joel Block Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today