Do you get embarrassed if you have to talk to someone new? Do you find yourself listening but not joining in? Here are 9 simple tips to help you confidently take part in any conversation.

Kissing the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle in Ireland is said to grant you the ability to make conversation the gift of eloquence and, given the abilities of the Irish to talk, who are we to question tradition?

Conversation skills are something many of us wish we had but traveling to Blarney Castle might not work for everyone.

Here are a few tips to help anyone improve their conversation skills.

1. Speak about what you know

In conversation, our words betray our knowledge. There is a well-known saying “put your brain into gear before opening your mouth” and all of us, at some time, have wished we’d done exactly that. Conversations on subjects we know something about are always much safer.

If you don’t know about a subject, listen and learn, and if you are asked your opinion preface it with “this is something I know little about.” then give an honest opinion. We all have our limitations, and you will be respected for your honesty.

2. Actively Listen

Active listening is one of the main conversation skills. Concentrate on what others say and how they say it. As you listen to the words listen to the variation in the pitch of their voice. See how it changes depending on mood and how the tone and pitch change what’s being said.

3. Watch their Body Language

Watch how others communicate is another major conversation skill. Don’t just listen to what others say, watch their body language and their gestures. If all you do is listen to the words you will miss most of what they are saying.

4. Acknowledge your Errors

One conversation skill often overlooked is admitting an error. We all make mistakes, and if you realize you’ve made a mistake acknowledge it. If you are unsure about a word check if you pronounced it correctly or ask if you used the word in the right context. People accept honest mistakes, however, if you are always using long words just to show off they will quickly lose interest.

5. Make Eye Contact with your Audience

An essential conversation skill when listening and speaking is to use eye contact to maintain a connection. It doesn’t matter if you have an audience of one or one hundred, maintaining eye contact keeps them involved. Practice eye contact in a mirror and note what makes you uncomfortable as it probably has a similar effect on others.

6. Smile and Inject a Little Humor

When done well it can lift the tension, or recapture those individuals whose thoughts have drifted away. You will retain the attention of the majority of the group or audience, and they will feel more comfortable.

Unless you are a stand-up comedian don’t crack jokes. It is much better to tell humorous stories based on your experiences but don’t laugh hysterically at your own stories. Allow others to appreciate them without being embarrassed at your behavior.

7. Me, Myself, and I

Admit it, there are times you sing to yourself in the shower or the bath, and you think of yourself as the next Frank Sinatra or Eva Cassidy. Leave those dreams and opinions in the bathroom! In conversation don’t inflate your own ego by continually talking about yourself.

One often overlooked conversation skill is to involve others, by asking them their opinion and give them a chance to talk. Don’t belittle their opinions, give others the respect you like others to give to you.

8. Get Involved in Social Groups.

Whether that’s a night school drama course, a course to improve your public speaking, salsa lessons, or a group or society related to a hobby or your work. Get out there and talk to lots of different people, and you will pick up all the conversation skills you need.

9. Practice, practice, practice

Think of a few anecdotes and stories and write them out before you go out. If you have a tape recorder record your stories and listen to them again. Think of the questions you would like to ask others and your answers to the same questions. Now if you are asked you will be able to deliver a more relaxed answer.

Being confident in the company of others is difficult for many. Few have excellent conversation skills and the majority just about cope. As with anything else conversation skills and confident speaking are all about knowledge and experience.