The true spirit of conversation consists more in bringing out the cleverness of others than in showing a great deal of it yourself.
-- LA BRUY»RE
The purpose of steering the conversation is not to dominate it (that would be the opposite of charm), but to make sure that, with your support, it continues to go in the direction the other person wishes so that his or her interest and involvement are constantly engaged.
Imagine yourself in a social situation. You're standing there alone, minding your own business, with a plate of snacks in one hand and a glass of wine in the other. Out of the blue, somebody launches at you and immediately starts talking about himself: "I do this; I did that."
In ten seconds flat, you're thinking, "How can I get out of here!" Now, let's imagine the same situation, only this time somebody comes over to you and in ten seconds flat has you talking about yourself. Who would you prefer to spend time with? There's no contest.
Talk About What the Other Person Cares About
All of us enjoy talking about the topics we're interested in -- especially when the listener seems to enjoy it, too. When people discuss a topic that's important to them, they tend to reveal a great deal about themselves to sympathetic listeners. They show their likes and dislikes, their preferences, beliefs, and ideas. When you are the listener in a conversation, you must listen closely to discover the various paths you can take in steering the conversation. What you're looking for is a way to keep up your end of the conversation while encouraging others to take over as much of the conversation as they like.
An added bonus is that you can often learn as much from people with whom you have little in common as those with whom you agree. An open mind is a receptive mind, and it creates the endearing manner of the charming person.
The surest way to steer any conversation is to ask questions that begin with who, what, why, when, where, and how. Any question that starts with one of these words cannot be answered with a yes or no. The response requires facts, figures, feelings, and details. And the person who asks these questions has control.
One of the most powerful ways to elicit reactions, responses, and opinions is to ask the questions, "How do you feel about that?" or "What do you think about that?" whenever a story or anecdote is told. These questions almost always elicit a more extensive answer, and the person speaking will think that you are both charming and intelligent, just for asking.