“My idea of hell on earth is a literary party and I have an uneasy feeling that this post carries with it a lot of sherry-drill with important people.”
– Philip Larkin, on refusing the post of Professor of Poetry at Oxford.
Take a moment to remind yourself of why you picked this degree path… got it?
Now let me guess: you love to write!
For many of us, our passion for writing may stem from just being so naturally good at it. But it could additionally be that we write better than we speak. We all know that even class discussion can be intimidating at times, and how, most of the time, we would rather write a view than speak it in a literary circle.
Now, here comes the big however:
Whether you are pursuing that advanced degree so that you may one day gracefully swarm in academic and literary circles (’round your small table in a low lit room, sipping your coffee or tea), or you simply want to be able to talk to your boss/editor/client ’round a glass of water, you should probably brush up on the art of conversation.
Luckily, Her Ladyship has us covered. Voice of such gems as Her Ladyship’s Guide to Running One’s Home and Her Ladyship’s Guide to the Queen’s English, Her Ladyship knows just what we (british) pre-professionals need, and tidies it up into easy to read guides.
With my yearly Barnes & Noble gift card, I picked up Her Ladyship’s Guide to the Art of Conversation, and now I am happy to pass some of the basics to you. Here are the biggest tips I took from Her Ladyship’s guide:
1. Be confident in your appearance.
Before you ever reach your conversation destination, take a moment to stop by a mirror. Check your hair, teeth, earlobes, whatever, just so that you don’t have to adjust anything during conversation, which makes you appear nervous.
2. Listen like you’re going to use what you’re hearing to save the galaxy.
Do you think Gyn was thinking about what she had for lunch when she was being told about the vulnerability of the Death Star? No.
You should listen intently when someone is speaking instead of thinking about what you’re going to say when the spotlight lands on you. People can tell when you are disinterested, which leads me to the next tip…
3. Smile like you mean it.
“How many times in a trashy novel have your read of the villain, ‘His smile didn’t reach his eyes’? Make sure yours does” (19).
Don’t hold an uncomfortable smile; relax and listen and you will be able to respond with a natural, warm smile.
4. Ask questions.
Her Ladyship advises that if you want to appear interesting, don’t go on about how interesting you are. Instead, ask questions to prompt the other person. They will leave the conversation, having talked about themselves, thinking that you are quite the interesting cat.
Additionally, if a shy person joins your group, get them into the discussion by asking their opinion on the matter just mentioned. You will look like a conversation pro. Don’t push it though: some people are just natural listeners.
5. Small talk is OK.
The conversation has to start somewhere. Small talk should not be despised but should be viewed as a “means to an end,” the end being a real connection (53). Her Ladyship says, “The point of asking ‘Have you come far?’ is not to find out if the other person has come far, it’s to encourage them to tell you about themselves” (142).
Furthermore, “The best conversationalists, it has been said, are those who are genuinely interested in other people and experience real delight in finding out about their lives” (53).
This will hopefully get you started at that next conference or small group discussion. Pick up your own conversational guide from Her Ladyship for tips ranging from common topics to how to get out of a boring conversation nicely.
Eventually, we will all have to represent ourselves not only with our writing, but also our in-person communication. Master these skills now to open doors, and screen doors, and doggy doors, and windows, and curtains, and blinds, etc….
Until next time!
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