By Paul Barton

How to make conversation?

Knowing how to make conversation is critical if you want to build a relationship – a romantic relationship, a personal relationship, a social relationship or a business relationship – or if you want to help sell yourself for a job … get ahead … make a sale.

Conversation skill can make or break you in personal relationships and in the business world. Sadly, most people don’t realize how important conversation is, nor do they try to do better.

That’s a shame, because anyone can easily develop great conversation skills. There are five easy steps you can take right now … this instant … to help you make good conversation.

1. Anticipate

2. Arm

3. Question

4. Understand

5. Adapt

I will explain each step for you, but first, let me emphasize just how important conversation is to you.

A Stanford University School of Business study showed its impact on business success. It tracked MBA’s 10 years after graduation, and found grade point averages had no bearing on their success — but conversation did. Most successful were those who could make conversation with anyone — from strangers, to secretaries, to bosses to customers.

Conversation impacts your success in “personal” relationships because it can shape how others see you in terms of intelligence and confidence. People tend to see good conversationalists as more intelligent and confident.

Other research — to find the characteristics of the ideal person — has shown confidence and intelligence are the most important factors for about 60% of respondents.

Despite the importance of conversation, most people don’t do it well. Shyness is one reason. Others range from not knowing how to start a conversation to not having anything to say.

But all it really takes to be good at conversation is to follow this simple 5-step strategy:

Anticipate, Arm, Question, Understand and Adapt.


You will never have a conversation in a vacuum. It will always have its own context and environment. Think ahead about conversations you are likely to have — even those casual encounters that may happen because of where you will be on a given day.


Arm yourself with “something to say.” Do a little research. Read the newspapers. Find interesting things to talk about –serious or humorous — on the subjects that come up in everyday conversation – careers, sports, the weather, money, kids, politics, etc.


This is critical. The other four elements – Anticipate, Arm, Understand and Adapt – help YOU. But a conversation takes two, and the “Question” element helps BOTH you and the other party. Ask someone a question, and you get them “engaged.”


The “Understand” element of the strategy requires you to, not only listen to how others answer questions, but to “understand” – and adapt.


Let’s assume you are a salesperson and, when you enter the new prospect’s office, you alertly notice a picture of him standing in front of a sign saying “Michigan State University.”

You say, “Oh, I see you went to Michigan State.” The prospect replies, “Yeah, I went there on a football scholarship.”

And you reply, “Oh, I went to Boston University, myself. What was your major?”

Wrong follow-up question! The prospect “volunteered” information important to him (football scholarship). You should have “adapted”… following up with something like, “Oh, what position did you play?” This could lead to a whole series of questions, increasingly “engaging” the prospect.

When you successfully apply this simple conversation strategy, you can create “rapport” – a feeling of trust and liking. This can cause others to think of you in positive ways:

“Personal” friends or personal friends-to-be:

“This is an interesting, entertaining and witty person — the kind of person I like to have around me.”

Employers or potential employers:

“This is a person who would fit in here — a person who can relate well and get along well with others.”


“I’m comfortable with this person. This is the kind of person I’d like to do business with.”

Clearly, conversation is crucial to you. You owe it to YOU to learn how to do it well.

Copyright (c) 2008 Paul Barton, Sellfire Value Marketing, LLC

Paul Barton is a communication and marketing consultant. His book, How To Be GREAT!!! In Conversation, has been used by thousands of people all over the world to help them build relationships and sell themselves through conversation skills, and his personal/phone consultations have benefitted people in all walks of life.