The Art of Civilized Conversation : A Guide to Expressing Yourself With Style and Grace
Say It with Style
In our fast-paced, electronic society, the most basic social interaction--talking face-to-face--can be a challenge for even the most educated and self-assured individuals. And yet making conversation is a highly practical skill: those who do it well shine at networking parties, interviews, and business lunches. Good conversation also opens doors to a happier love life, warmer friendships, and more rewarding time with family.
For those intimidated by the complexity of personal interaction, or those simply looking to polish their speaking skills, The Art of Civilized Conversation is a powerful guide to communicating in an endearing way. In its pages, author Margaret Shepherd offers opening lines, graceful apologies, thoughtful questions, and, ultimately, the confidence to take conversations beyond hello. From the basics--first impressions, appropriate subject matter, and graceful exits--to finding the right words for difficult situations and an insightful discussion of body language, Shepherd uses her skilled eye and humorous anecdotes to teach readers how to turn a plain conversation into an engaging encounter.
Filled with common sense and fresh insight, The Art of Civilized Conversation is the perfect inspiration not only for what to say but for how to say it with style.
There is so much information in this manual that the easily intimidated may decide that silence is sometimes better than bearing in mind all the rules of conversation. Shepherd, a calligrapher and writer (The Art of the Handwritten Note), covers almost every type of social or intimate situation, including how to make introductions, requests, apologies, and a variety of tips for speaking with children, elderly people and in-laws. Shepherd also addresses those difficult moments when we all have trouble knowing what to say: she advocates first checking when a bedridden friend will welcome visitors and allowing a seriously ill person the freedom to express anger at his or her condition. Not all will agree with her argument that it's appropriate to speak in a louder voice to someone whose first language is not English. Some of the author's 10 rules of conversation are obvious, while others seem based on her own likes and dislikes. And some standard rules that she reiterates--such as not speaking about religion or politics--have loosened up a bit in recent years. (Dec. 27)
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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December 26, 2005
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Excerpt from The Art of Civilized Conversation by Margaret Shepherd
Are Made Of
Sweet discourse, the banquet of the mind.
--John Dryden, Fables Ancient and Modern, 1700
Only connect!" In the novel Howard's End, E. M. Forster considered what it would mean to "live in fragments no longer." A century later, in an even more fragmented world, you may have only a few minutes to connect with someone new or reconnect with a friend. You can make the most of these happy opportunities by knowing what goes into making good conversation. Whether you're aware of it or not, you already have the rich resources that you need to converse well. You simply have to tap in to them.
Tools of the Trade: Your Voice, Face, and Body
Every expressive art begins with a set of tools. In the art of conversation, you are both the artist and the tool kit. Though some things about you can't be changed, you can learn to make the best use of your voice, facial expressions, body, and body language. Most people will respond to the things about you that you have chosen, like your smile, your posture, and your clothes. The people who are worth talking to will not focus on the things you can't change, like your height, your face, and your race.
How You Sound
Your tone of voice and facial expressions are much more important than how pretty or stylish you look. Many of the nicest words don't work if the tone is wrong, whereas many awkward phrases will be forgiven if you smile and speak pleasantly. Sometimes the difference between a minor blooper and a real insult is the speaker's intonation and the look on his face. For instance, "congratulations" means one thing if enunciated with a low-pitched voice through gritted teeth, quite another if pitched higher with a sincere smile. Go one octave higher, however, and you will ring insincere. "You deserve each other" is an insult in an ironic tone and a compliment in a caring one. In the movie Donnie Brasco, actor Johnny Depp uses tone of voice to give at least half a dozen different meanings to the phrase "forgetaboutit."
Likewise, take care to put the emphasis on words so that you mean what you say. For instance, a friend who shows up late will hear a different message depending on where you place the emphasis in: Where have you been? Where have you been? Where have you been? Where have you been?
Pay attention to how loud you speak, and be willing to change your volume when you need to. Notice whether people are backing off and bracing themselves for the blast, or leaning in and straining to hear.
If you mumble, you risk not only being misunderstood, but frustrating your audience as well. Never drop your voice to a breathy whisper in an effort to get people to pay closer attention to you. That may have worked for Marilyn Monroe, but if you want to be taken seriously, speak up.
How You Look
Be pretty if you can, witty if you must, and pleasant if it kills you.
--Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little Town on the Prairie, 1953
When Prince Charles was introduced to the actress Susan Hampshire in 1973, she was wearing a very low-cut dress. He said to her, "Father told me that if I ever meet a young lady in a dress like yours, I must look her straight in the eye." People will enjoy conversing with you more if they are not distracted by what you're wearing. Do your homework. If you're going to a party, check the dress code. If you think you need a shower, you probably do. If high heels make you feel that you loom over people, wear flats. If people don't treat you seriously, dress like a grown-up! If you want your own Prince Charming to remember your face, cover up the rest a bit. Don't be afraid to present the real you--not more, not less.
Although you don't want to offend people, there's no need to be completely neutral in how you dress. You don't need to keep your profile too low. In fact, if what you wear gives clues to who you are, you will appeal to like-minded people. Express yourself with a conversation piece like a ring, a piece of antique jewelry, or another accessory item. I have a very funny-looking purse of red fur, designed for me by my daughter at age fourteen. It's comfortable to carry and easy to keep track of, and as a conversation piece it really works. At a recent fundraising party for a dance group, a total stranger rushed up to me with a smile on her face. "You're the lady with the purse! I saw you last month in the post office and a week later I saw you at the book fair, and now here you are!" This coincidence, which was not particularly meaningful to anyone but her, was enough to introduce us to each other, and our common interest in the dance group then led to a very lively conversation.
Before you arrive anywhere, tuck in your shirt, smooth down your hair, and check your teeth for spinach. If you clean up, dress with care, stand up straight, smile, and make eye contact, you're already on your way to making others more comfortable and receptive. Your self-confidence that you look appealing will make you appeal to people.