Charm School: The Art of Conversation.

I didn't really intend to begin Charm School with Conversation but two things pushed this to the fore front.  First, I had guests in my home this weekend and I noted yet again a certain flaw in my conversation.

Reason number two:  when I opened the blog I found via Pinterest, the first thing that popped up was Conversation.  So I took notes as I read and then I took my books and read the section on conversation in each of them in turn.

Voice.  Let us begin first at the very beginning.  In order to speak we must use our voice.  Have you listened to yourself speaking?  Is your voice pleasant?  Is it nasal?  Do you speak too loudly?  Do you speak too softly, so that people are constantly asking you to repeat yourself?  Do you tend to mumble?  Do you pace your speech well?   Do you speak too quickly?  Does your voice lack any modulation at all so that you speak in a droning monotone?  Do you sound angry?  Whining?  All of these things can make conversation either a joy to others or difficult and may well determine the way in which you are spoken to by others.

One author suggested recording oneself.   My phone has a  recorder where I can make vocal notes.  This is an excellent tool.  Most of us have some means of recording our voice in our home either through cameras or even computer programs.  The key here is to find a way to hear your own voice and to listen to it.  If you are using a video camera do not look at it, just speak into the microphone. You'll only be distracted by watching your movements and critiquing how you look.  All you really want to do at this time is LISTEN.  Simply listen to the sound of your own voice.  Is it well modulated?  Does speech flow easily?  Do you enunciate clearly?

When you are speaking do you hear yourself using fillers?  Fillers are words such as "uhm", 'like', 'you know'.  Do you sprinkle sentences with slang or use swear or cuss words?  I confess that I am guilty of that.  Surprised?   Yet, I assure you, put me in a situation where I feel a bit anxious and nine times out of ten, slang and swear words will creep into my conversation.  Not an attractive quality and one which I mean to eradicate!

How's your laugh?  Is it a loud guffaw?  A silly titter?  Here's something you can practice cultivating as well.  I know that laughs are often part and parcel of the individual but some are more pleasant than others.  In our family it's common knowledge that one individual amongst us has a laugh that sends cold chills down our spines.  Seriously!  That person has never altered that laugh  and despite being told is indifferent to even attempting to change it.

If you haven't a recording device then ask a deeply trusted family member or friend to critique your speech.  Make notes of the points they criticize and then work to correct them.

Another author suggested spending thirty minutes daily reading aloud from a variety of books and magazines.  Another suggested that we talk to ourselves out loud as we go through a portion of our day.  I confess, I do this last thing a good bit when I'm alone and sometimes when John is home.  He's often asked me, "Who are you talking to?!"  He always shakes his head when I reply, "Myself."

If you are prone to using fillers, slang, swear or cuss words, you might try fining yourself each time you use such.  I mean to do this.  I'm going to ask John to help monitor and keep me accountable, but you know how often a man says, "Oh, I wasn't listening?"  He won't be my sole resource in that area, I mean to monitor myself.

Another good exercise is to carefully listen to how others speak or laugh.  Listen to radio talk shows, to television, to conversations others are holding and learn to recognize both the good and bad qualities of their voices and speech patterns. 

I recently watched a documentary about Lucille Ball.  She was good friends with Ginger Rogers.  Ms. Rogers mother coached and mentored many young starlets including Lucille Ball.  One of the first things she suggested to Ms. Ball was to lower her voice by one octave, because she tended to be rather shrill of speech.  That sometimes shrill voice was comedic but if you've watched her films Ms. Ball truly does have a lovely speaking voice in films that were comedies but not slapstick comedy such as her "I Love Lucy" series. 

I confess I had a hard time listening to Fran Drescher with her nasal high pitched voice.  She was so lovely to look at but my skin crawled every time I heard her speak.  Judy Holliday is another actress that set my skin crawling.  I was always puzzled why these women made such a big hit on film!

I have a lovely acquaintance who is embarking on a career path that has her making public speeches often.   Her country Southern twang is so thick at times that it truly does mar her presentation.  Alas, we are not such good friends that I might safely offer my critique of her voice but it does make me very conscious of my own Southern drawl and the tendency to draw out words that others might not.  John would be aggrieved if I lost my Southern accent which he finds charming, but it can be overly strong at times, especially if I speak hurriedly or am angry.

That reminds me of my Amie.  All my children have a sort of homogenous accent that is American but mostly indistinquishable as Southern.  This is mostly due to the fact that each of them have been about military bases in their adult years either due to service or because they settled into military base towns.  When Amie moved north many years ago she took a job in a call center.  One evening as she was working she took a call from a customer in Kentucky.  Her Southern accent increased dramatically as the call went on.  Her supervisor came up to her at the end of the phone call and told her sternly that he'd barely understood a word she'd said.  Amie's reply was to apologize but she courteously pointed out that the customer had understood every single word and wasn't that the purpose?   However, she took note that she needed to watch that tendency to drawl and trail out words that others might not.

Preparation.  Conversation among friends is often easy enough but when you are going into a social setting where you might not know others what will you talk about?   The answer is to prepare yourself before hand. 

For openers you might talk about the weather, a current news event, or the surroundings. These subjects are known as 'easy openers'.

 Have a few leading questions prepared that you might ask, such as what the other person's occupation might be, where he lives, how he knows the hostess.  Prepare a  list of things you might discuss when those subjects are exhausted:  a popular book you've read, a movie that you've just seen, an interesting article you'd read on any subject.  Keep your comments brief, intelligent and ask the other person's opinion.

Practice these before a mirror if you're nervous and practice replying to someone who might ask you about the same.  Conversation is a two way street, you know.

While you're standing at that mirror, practice a genuine smile.   One that reaches your eyes and causes them to glow with warmth.  A genuine smile will usually win over all but the most cantankerous folks.

At the Party.  Ideally the hostess will take her responsibility seriously and come to greet you then make introductions to a small group nearby.  Here she may well leave you to attend to other guests need.  Now you must take your responsibility as a guest seriously.  If you missed someone's name you might ask them to repeat it.  Answer questions amicably.  If you were introduced mid-story and the original speaker continues on, listen politely.  Make note of points that you might ask a question about or upon which you might comment. 

If the speaker is keen to monopolize the group you can quietly excuse yourself and move to another group that is hopefully more open to interaction.  Introduce yourself.  Join into conversation.  Listen to others.  You'll soon find if you do this over and over that people see you as 'outgoing'.

If you want be a highly valued guest seek out the few folks who are sitting on the sidelines and attempt to engage them in conversation.  You can do this quite well because you practiced at home: start with an easy opener, engage the other person by asking about his job or connection to the hostess and then move on to a common subject.  Ask about hobbies or interests.  Be a good listener.  Share something about yourself on a subject that genuinely interests you.  Your enthusiasm and warmth as you speak will interest the other person.  Don't monopolize anyone group or person and ignore others.  Work your way about the room.

Remember that while speaking is part of conversation it's truly the listener who keeps conversation going.  If everyone is talking and no one is listening eventually everyone will stop speaking.  Listen and ask pertinent questions.  This might well encourage others to ask questions as well and the end result may well be you have a new viewpoint at the end of that bit of conversation.

The No Nos. 
Don't interrupt the speaker to interject an anecdote of your own on the same subject.  Wait your turn.

Don't be rude or brusque with your questions.  Wait until there is a natural pause in the subject of conversation and then ask a question.  You are not a reporter on a hot lead, just an interested bystander.  A woman of my recent acquaintance often broke into a story mid-sentence and began rapid firing questions at the speaker.  This broke up a story badly and her insistence on asking still more questions often led the conversation off into a tangent that had nothing to do with the subject matter. 

Never use a foreign language unless it is your native tongue and you've no other means of conversing.  It is considered rude to speak in a language not known to the majority of the people assembled unless an interpreter is available.

Don't exclude or ignore anyone within a small group.  Try to draw out those who are quiet. If someone joins the group late, try to bring them update.

Don't make attack comments.  You know just what I mean.  It can't be helped if someone is determined to take offense at something that is said but we certainly oughtn't make inflammatory blanket statements about religious or political matters that take a swipe at doctrines and whole groups of people.  Be kind.  Be tactful. If it's obvious a subject just isn't going to be discussed equitably, drop it and move on.  In my early years it was understood that one simply didn't discuss matters of religion or politics and considering the current atmosphere in our nation it might be wise to return to that most especially in social arenas.

If someone begins a story you've heard a hundred times and he's addressing it to the group don't interrupt him to say that you've heard it already.  Now one author assured her readers it was quite all right to do just that if it was a one on one conversation addressed to you alone but personally I think that would be horribly rude if it's someone you've just met.  Do your best to give a genuine warm smile and/or laugh (not a forced fake one) and let the poor soul have his moment.

Don't discuss your troubles or share personal confidences with everyone.  Choose wisely and well the friend with whom you do discuss such matters and be sure that the conversation is private not public.

Don't talk about others, neither genuine facts or gossip.  If it was told you in confidence then be trustworthy and keep quiet.  Pretend you know nothing of it.  If someone insists upon trying to draw you into gossip of any sort, it's quite all right to excuse yourself and move on to a new group.  Don't be part of something that might cost you a relationship.

Don't drone on and on about what you ate for breakfast or dinner or how your diet must be adjusted, etc.  It's your indigestion.  Don't give them indigestion as well.  Similarly forgo blow by blow accounts of medical conditions.  And for goodness sake NEVER mention to anyone your bathroom woes!!  I don't think that is appropriate to mention to anyone except your doctor!

Don't be a tangent talker.  (Gracious ladies, I'm guilty of this!)  Don't fret over the details of a story.  Your audience really couldn't care less if you can't remember whether it was Friday or Sunday that you saw Gloria and oh it must have been Sunday because you recall clearly that was the day that the cat upset the milk bowl as you went to answer the phone and you tripped over George's shoes and he wasn't home on Friday,  so it must have been Sunday...  You get the point.  Edit the story mentally and stick to the point.

Don't pretend knowledge of a subject about which you know nothing.  Listen and ask intelligent questions of the speaker to help you better understand the subject.  Nothing puts you in a worse light than being caught in an obvious pretense.  It's dishonest.  Not knowing about a subject is not ignorance.  It's simply something you haven't learned yet.

People talk about what interests them most.  It might not interest you.  Don't stand there looking bored to tears.  Wipe your face clear of any tell tale signs of wishing you were elsewhere and listen politely.  Ask a question or two.  Share something that interests you.  Your companion may well be bored to tears but hopefully she is capable of the same grace you were.

Summary:  You can have a pleasant speaking voice and laugh if you'll practice and practice while on your own.

When among friends conversation is often easy but polite rules remain the same.  Know those conversational no noes and avoid them like the plague.

If going amongst strangers prepare a mental list of openers, questions and a subject or two of which you're sure of yourself.   Be a good guest and circulate.  Talk and listen well.


Conversation in a social setting is one thing.  But we have conversations all throughout our day don't we?  Phone calls are one area that come to mind and that has it's own special set of rules. 

Never assume the person whom you are calling knows who is calling.  It takes only a moment to identify yourself and a moment more to make sure you're speaking to the person you intended to call.

Ask the person you've called if they are busy before you start chattering away.  If they are in a public place you should certainly call back later.  I'm not so keen to have a long winded friend discussing my personal matters so that customers in a store or restaurant might hear them, are you?  And haven't we all run into those sorts?  Goodness!  I hope you aren't that sort!  If you're in a public place let your caller know that you are engaged and offer to call them back at a more appropriate time.

If you are with someone, never take a call unless it's an emergency.   If you must answer the phone, let the caller know that you're engaged and will call back as soon as possible.

Keep to the point.  Don't assume that just because you've called time is not at a premium for the person to whom you're speaking.  If you need a good long chatter then ask when a good time might be to call and make arrangements to call at that time.

Honestly it oughtn't to be said, but end a call properly by saying goodbye.  It's unbelievable how many people I know who will simply hang up on you without such a courtesy.  It's forgivable in a two year old who has discovered the 'end call' button but an adult truly should know better.


Lana said...

There is a very nice couple at our church who talk so softly that neither of us can hear a word they are saying. We could tell that they really wanted to get to know us but we were stumped about what to do about not being able to hear them.

Vintage Ellen said...

I have a soft voice but when I speak up I feel like I'm shouting! Something to work on. Your post had lots of good ideas and suggestions. thank you!

Sarah said...

This is so helpful! I need charm school badly, lol. Can you please share the website/blog you are taking the classes from? Thank you!!

Sew Blessed Maw [Judy] said...

Great ideas. Thank you for sharing

Kathy said...

Great tips!
The story about your daughter's accent with the customer made me laugh. Put me in a room with my childhood friends, and my southern accent gets thicker by the minute. :D
My son also convicted me this week. I try not to cuss, aend I told him that it makes me cringe when people say OMG etc. He said well, Mom, you say Oh Lord when you get exasperated...guess I need to put a better guard on my tongue.

Anonymous said...

When I am trying to explain something to someone who upsets me I am so nervous I talk louder and look angry when I do it. In reality I am scared to say anything but while trying to make a point I end up making things worse. I have to remember to stop and relax first.
The charm school is good to follow and learn from. Thank you.
I got on a site last night. I did not bookmark it and should have. She had a post about a class she was taking possibly on line, on how to dress for her body type. She was an apple. She mentioned some book too. Of course now I can't find it and wanted to follow her to get ideas. Do you have any idea of what blog it might be? I wanted to tell you about it. :( Sarah

Anonymous said...

I found the sight..I can't hardly believe I did ! :-) It is I thought if you don't know of this sight it might be interesting for you to read the May1 post about some of the things she learned to make good clothing and accessory choices for her body type. Also the link for the class on how to dress for all types etc. Since I am 5'3" too and so I loved reading what she had say. Sarah

Carolyn @ Our Gilded Abode said...

This is such a great idea - to be mindful of how we speak in tone and projection. Thank you so much for sharing it! Another site that I've found helpful in the past is She offers a free weekly newsletter and great advice for dressing for your body type. There's also a paid service in which she confirms your body type and provides shopping guides for your specific type. Years ago when I subscribed, it was so helpful because the shopping guides included actual clothing items and store names so that, if you like, you could purchase those items directly. I'm not a current subscriber, but may have just talked myself into re-subscribing. LOL! And, I'm not related to the owner of that site in any way nor is this a paid endorsement. Just wanted to share a service I personally am aware of. Will also check out atrayofbliss that Sarah shared. :) This is such a fun topic to study!

Sarah said...

Thanks for the link!!

Diary for July: Week Two

July 7, Shabat Saturday:   So very much I want to chatter over today and perhaps I will...I don't typically write on Shabat, having al...