Have you ever wanted to talk to someone but been too afraid? Or started a conversation and run out of things to say? Being able to initiate and keep a conversation going takes practice. But it's worth the effort because good conversations strengthen relationships - and sometimes they lead to friendships. Here are some tips to help you master the art of conversation. Keeping abreast of current events It might sound strange, but reading can make you a better conversationalist. Reading keeps you informed of what's going on. And that gives you something to talk about. So stop telling yourself you have nothing to say. Instead, scan a newspaper or magazine for the latest news or celebrity gossip - it might make a good conversation piece. Initiating a conversation Starting a conversation is all about establishing a connection. It doesn't matter if it's a stranger or a friend - we all share experiences we can talk about. If you're at a party, spark a conversation by asking the other person how they know the host. The key is to overcome your fear and jump in. Simply introduce yourself. Then engage the other person in conversation with an open-ended question (who, what, where, when, why or how). Talking and listening A good conversation is like a tennis match with words. Each person takes a turn talking and listening. Once you're deep in conversation, it's easy to forget to listen. We often focus on what to say next or how to get our comment in. Not listening or interrupting the other person in mid-sentence is a surefire way to kill a conversation. So focus on the other person and give them a chance to speak. Asking questions Questions are the lifeblood of conversation. Not only do questions help you understand what the other person is saying, they also show you're interested. And they keep the conversation flowing. Whether you're listening or speaking, be sure to ask lots of open-ended questions. Showing interest Remember that other person is as nervous as you. So help them relax with encouraging words and positive body language. Nod your head, smile and make frequent eye contact. Throw in a few words of encouragement such as 'Really?' or 'That's interesting'. If the other person feels comfortable, they'll talk more. Ending a conversation We all get stuck in boring conversations. When this happens, it's time to exit gracefully. Say something positive and give a reason for ending the conversation: It's been nice talking to you. I need to go now/Will you excuse me? I see someone I need to talk to. The key is to end on a positive note. Assess your conversational skills Circle the letter which best describes you. 1. When I'm talking with others, I ... a) do most of the talking. b) let the other person do most of the talking. c) listen and ask questions. 2. When I'm talking to someone, I ... a) never look at them. b) stare at them. c) make frequent eye contact. 3. I ... a) don't pay attention to people's names. b) try to remember people's names, but forget them. c) make an effort to remember and use people's names. 4. When I'm talking, I ... a) hold my head still. b) nod my head constantly. c) nod my head at appropriate times. 5. To end a conversation, I ... a) walk away. b) look at my watch or yawn. c) make a polite closing statement. Score Mostly a's: You need to work on your conversational skills. Mostly b's: You need to fine-tune your conversational skills. Mostly c's: You're a natural conversationalist.