Listen more, and listen actively. In any conversation, it’s imperative that both parties are actively engaged and listening. If you want to instantly improve your ability to carry a conversation, shift your focus from what you are about to say, and listen to what the other person is saying. You’ll find it far easier to understand the conversation as a whole, and you can add your own substance to the conversation because you’ve actually been listening.
There are two ways to own a room. You could take over the conversation and make everyone else listen to you (which they will not enjoy), or you could listen to everyone else and facilitate the conversation (which they will love.)
Owning the room may seem like an activity for the bubbly extroverts who can talk up a storm, which is partially true. However, an equally effective method called “shutting up” works wonders. It’s remarkable how much of an effect you can have by facilitating the conversation rather than dominating it. People love to talk about themselves, and you’ll make their day by allowing them to do so.
As you develop the habit of actively listening rather than actively anticipating your own turn to speak, it will also become much easier to ask questions. If you have nothing else to say, do not default to talking about nothing. Rather, default to asking another question. Continue to inquire, be curious, and use every conversation as an opportunity to learn something. This will not only improve the conversation because you are allowing the other person to speak and thus drive the conversation, but it will also help you become more likable in the process. Other people will enjoy the conversation much more than they would if you simply decided to dominate the dialogue.
In an interview on the Tim Ferriss Podcast, Robert Metcalfe described the very first salesman he interviewed to work for him at Viacom. Robert had spent a half hour interviewing the salesman and walked out of the interview with a smile on his face, excited about the candidate he had just spoken to. When his coworkers asked Robert how the interview went, he said it went superbly well.
When they asked him what he learned about the candidate, he realized he had learned absolutely nothing about him. The salesman he was interviewing had asked Robert all of the questions and allowed him to talk throughout the entire interview, and inevitably, Metcalfe enjoyed every minute of it. (Though he sure didn’t learn much!)