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Be a Better Conversationalist With These 10 TED Tips

Conversations. They’re a huge part of our daily lives. But have you ever stopped to notice how terrible we’ve all become at simply talking to each other?

Blame technology. Blame social media. Blame the fact that we all have the ceaseless urge to hold our iPhones in front of our faces 24/7. Tell yourself whatever you need to sleep at night, but the point remains the same: conversation is a dying art.

That’s exactly what radio host, Celeste Headlee, asserts in a recent TED Talk. During her talk, she not only touches on how we’ve all lost our conversational competence, but also shares ten great tips to have better conversations.

We could probably all use a little brushing up on our conversational skills every now and then, so here’s a quick rundown of her awesome tips:

1. Don’t Multitask

Conversations deserve your full attention—not just the occasional glances you manage when you rip your focus away from your Instagram feed.

2. Don’t Pontificate

If you’re open to a conversation, you need to be open to other ideas. You shouldn’t expect to state your opinions without any sort of back and forth discussion. That’s not a conversation—it’s a speech. Phrases like ‘I hadn’t thought of it that way’ and ‘That’s an interesting perspective’ are helpful ways to manage differences of opinion.

3. Use Open-Ended Questions

These journalist-style inquiries encourage further conversation, rather than simply requesting confirmation of something you already believe to be true. Ask ‘Why do you think that happened?’ or ‘How did that affect your work?’. They result in deeper and more thoughtful answers.

4. Go With the Flow

Let’s face it—you can’t really plan out a conversation. You need to be willing to ride the waves and stick with the conversation wherever it goes. Blurting something out just because you were bound and determined to say it will only make you look out of touch and inattentive.

5. Admit When You Don’t Know

We’ve all experienced that awkward tango when someone tries to talk his or her way around something uncertain. If you don’t know something, own up to it. It’s better in the long run.

6. Don’t Equate Your Experiences With Others

Believe me, I get it. Sometimes bringing up a relevant experience seems like an effective way to show sympathy and understanding. But it’s important to realize that human experiences are all different. And, trying to equate yours to theirs can just seem insensitive. Resist the urge to say ‘I know exactly how you feel’, because you might not. Unless you’re being asked for advice, it’s usually best to be a good, sympathetic ear.

7. Don’t Repeat Yourself

Yes, your point is probably amazing. But, that doesn’t mean you need to beat everybody over the head with it. Saying it once is enough—I promise.

8. Stay Out Of the Weeds

Resist the temptation to become so wrapped up in the minor details. More often than not, your conversation partner finds them unnecessary (and a little boring). The gray walls or brown brick of the building are details people probably won’t care about it. The hot, humid day that caused a brownout of the building? Kind of critical to know.

9. Listen

This means really hearing and processing what the other person is saying—not just nodding halfheartedly while you’re waiting for your turn to talk. Often, listening is more important than talking. As the old saying goes, that’s why you have two ears and only one mouth.

10. Be Brief

No matter how engaging you are, nobody wants to listen to you drone on and on for hours on end. Err on the side of caution and keep things clear and concise. You can say ‘Sorry, I’m talking way too much here!’, and follow up with a question. If you notice you’ve been talking a lot, it never hurts to acknowledge it.

Headlee’s talk is awesome and we highly recommend it. Don’t worry, she heeds her own “be brief” advice—the entire talk is just over 11 minutes.

10 tips can be tough to remember when you’re busy trying to be actively engaged in a conversation, so let’s wrap this up into three simple, actionable takeaways you can use to improve your conversations starting today.

Ninja Takeaways

1. Be Present

Yes, your life as a Office Manager/Executive Assistant/Operations Guru is incredibly busy. But make sure to give your conversations the attention they deserve. It’s surprising, but it’ll actually save he details you would’ve missed if you were distracted.

2. Be Clear

State your point explicitly, and you’ll only have to state it once. Remember not to get bogged down in those pesky, irrelevant details. Stay focused on your core message to keep things brief, clear, and comprehensible.

3. Be Courteous

Wait for people to tell you their thoughts, rather than assuming you already know what’s coming. Be receptive to their ideas, and resist the temptation to overwhelm their experiences with your own. And, above all else, listen more than you talk.

Did we miss any tips? If you have any great insight to share on how you improve your own conversations, let us know in the comments!


  1. Great information! Thank you for sharing these tips. Being able to speak powerfully not only helps keep things on track in the office, but is also a great example to those around you.

  2. Thank you for this. It’s very timely and helpful. I love how you summed it up with three takeaways…be present….be clear…be courteous.

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