How to Avoid Awkward Silence

You know how to introduce yourself, but how do you keep the conversation going? The Public Speaker offers 5 tips for asking questions that open up communication and help you avoid those awkward silences.

Lisa B. Marshall
Episode #291

Tip #3: Read the Situation

Once you’ve broken the ice, you can head towards what you have in common. Keep in mind though - you are peeling away the layers.

Take your cues from your conversation partner. Do they seem comfortable with the conversation and sharing more deeply in the "interpersonal hula hoop"? If so, then go for a deeper level question. If not, keep it slow and steady. Continue to use questions, not statements, to keep the stories flowing.

For example, “I’m a postdoc here at Penn, studying viral reprogramming, and of course I’ve read your work on X. I’m wondering, what do you think about Y (something related to X)?” or “I studied in Canada too, what do you miss most about the north?”

Tip #4: The Other Person May Also Be Uncomfortable

Again, the idea is to ask a question to give the person something to respond to. Remember: networking situations may be awkward for them too. 

By asking an open-ended question, you are helping them take the next step in joining the conversation. When you overwhelm someone with information, you probably won’t get much more than a “Wow…that’s great,” before they try to get away.

Tip #5: Welcome Opportunities to Practice Your Conversational Skills

Social functions at a university, faculty talks, and guest speaker visits are all good places to practice your conversational skills.

Also, make small talk with every person you meet—the clerk at the bookstore, the person in the bank line, people you sit next to at seminars. Force yourself to practice this skill.

Knowing the best ways to introduce yourself is an important first step. But the ability to keep the conversation going is what successful networking is all about. It takes courage and skill to turn small talk into a meaningful conversation, but it's well worth the effort.

Follow these 5 steps and you're certain to avoid those uncomfortable, awkward silences.  

This is Lisa B. Marshall, Helping you maximize sales, manage perceptions, and enhance leadership through keynotes, workshops, books, and online courses. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.

If you want even more success in your life, I invite you to read my latest book, Smart Talk and listen to my other podcast, Smart Talk: Inspiring Conversations with Exceptional People.

Small Talk, Break the Ice, and Conversation images courtesy of Shutterstock.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.

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