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CHAPTER 30

Be a Charming Conversationalist

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is said to have once left a dinner party raving about Oscar Wilde's gift as a conversationalist. "But you did all the talking," his companion pointed out. "Exactly!" Conan Doyle said.

  -- STEPHEN FRY

Your charm quotient is entirely determined by the way you look, listen, and speak to people. But there is an additional quality that those who have charm enjoy -- they are great conversationalists. Being a focused and patient listener is essential to charm. Using a pleasant voice and not talking fast also raise your charm quotient. Another key to being charming is to be sensitive to what others want and don't want to talk about.

If the people you're speaking with want to unload their feelings or just talk about trivia, let them. It is true that there are those who will go on forever about things that are unimportant or boring to you. And it's hard to be charming when you are being bored out of your gourd. Some people will talk endlessly about their problems and their personal lives. You don't want to be impolite, so what can you do?

Usually you have two choices: One is changing the subject 180 degrees, the other is trying to grin and bear it. But when you've decided that enough is enough, there is another choice for the true charmer. You can use a well-placed question.

For example, a 180-degree change would be if you were to take over the conversation and switch abruptly to another topic. If someone is pouring out her heart about a pet dog, you suddenly start talking about your interest in intergalactic travel. A better way is to do a twenty or thirty degree shift and slip in a comment about your own appreciation of dogs. Then you might parlay into a question about dog shows -- "What did you think of the best-inshow pick at Westminster Kennel Club this year?" -- or performing dogs, dogs for the blind, rescue dogs, or some tidbit about pets and vets.

Your Tools for Charming Others

In your next conversation with a friend or colleague, look for an opening to change the subject obliquely, into a slightly different direction, twenty or thirty degrees off center, so the change of conversation is almost imperceptible. Try interjecting a well-placed question.

While you may not be able to change the subject entirely, you'll have charmed someone by keeping the conversation meaningful to that person. It's a wonderful opportunity to be creative while focusing on someone else's needs instead of your own. Making others feel special is one of the keys to becoming a disarmingly charming person.

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