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NPR’s Terry Gross on the Art of Conversation

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Terry Gross hosts NPR’s “Fresh Air” radio program and has interviewed thousands of people during her four-decade career.

Her advice for being a good conversationalist begins with the icebreaker, “Tell me about yourself,” according to a recent profile in The Dallas Morning News. The broad question lets you start a conversation without making assumptions about the other person, so he or she can feel comfortable and control how much they reveal about themselves.

Whether interviewing or conversing with someone, you should be genuinely curious and want to hear what the other person is telling you, Gross says. A good conversationalist is fun to talk to — and if not funny, then at least mentally organized, concise and energetic.

If someone is going to interview you, “organize your thoughts beforehand by thinking about the things you expect you’ll be asked and then reflecting on how you might answer,” she says.

This strategy also helps when you meet someone for the first time in a social setting. Know your boundaries, so “you’re not paralyzed agonizing over whether you’re willing to confide something or not.”


This article first appeared in the February 2019 “Storytelling & Writing” issue of Strategies & Tactics.

Greg Beaubien is a frequent contributor to PRSA’s publications.

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Greg Beaubien

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