ONCE you have mastered the techniques discussed in yesterday's article, initiating a conversation with a stranger is the easy part.

The hard part is to keep the conversation flowing.

How many times have you opened a conversation only to see it go nowhere and quickly fade away?

Make it easy for the other person to respond to your overtures. Here's how:

1. Open questions

The easiest way to sustain a conversation is to ask open questions. Open questions are those that cannot be answered with a simple "Yes" or "No". They invite responses that encourage further exchanges.

For example, asking: "Do you come here often?" is an unimaginative, closed question that will get you a "Yes" or "No" response.

A better question is: "What do you like best about this place?"

There are many possible responses to this question, and any of them could lead to an interesting conversation.

2. Follow-up questions

While open questions are better than closed questions in sustaining a conversation, closed questions are sometimes unavoidable. When you do get a "Yes" or "No" response, follow it up with another question.

By using follow-up questions, you can sustain a conversation that has stalled.

3. Elaborating

Once you get additional information with your follow-up question, you need to respond in kind. You cannot now give a "Yes" or "No" response without elaborating.

For example:

He: Do you come here often? (closed question)

She: Yes. (predictable response)

He: What do you like most about this place? (follow-up question)

She: The music here is really great! (unpredictable response)

He: Yes, it is.

(undeveloped response, conversation stalls)

A better response would be:

He: Yes, I really like contemporary jazz. What do you like? (elaborated response, conversation continues and develops)

Elaborate your responses wherever possible to sustain the conversation.

If the conversation does stall, you can simply ask another follow-up question. Or you can link back to an earlier line of discussion and develop the conversation in that direction.

4. Reserve topics

You should have a few topics in mind to open the conversation, with some in reserve to sustain it.

It is not unusual for a casual conversation to quickly run its course, especially among new acquaintances. If this happens, bring out one of your reserve topics and continue.

You may have to do this several times. The purpose of your exchange is to make contact, find out a bit about the other person and develop rapport.

5. Say something about yourself

Another way to sustain a conversation is to disclose some interesting titbits about yourself.

Most people are very guarded about self-disclosure, especially with people they do not know well.

Self- disclosure often elicits a reciprocal response. If you give a bit, the other person will likely give a bit as well.

6. Showing interest

None of the above techniques for sustaining a conversation will work unless you show interest in what the other person is saying.

Most of this is done non-verbally by maintaining eye contact, nodding and paying attention.

There is also verbal prompting, such as "I see", "Uh-huh" and "Tell me more".

7. Closing a conversation

When you wish to close the conversation, strive to achieve closure rather than simply ceasing to speak once the conversation stalls.

How do you end on a high note?

Summarise key points or recapitulate the most interesting point of the conversation. This signals that the conversation is coming to a close, allowing a clean and comfortable break for both parties.

If your counterpart gave you some helpful information or was particularly gracious during your conversation, thank him for it. The thank-you can be explicit, or it may be implied by an appreciative comment. For example, you can say: "I enjoyed talking with you. Have a good evening."

Throughout all three stages - initiating, sustaining and closing a conversation - remember these points:

* Smile, make eye contact, maintain an open and friendly posture and use body language effectively.

* Give your name, and make sure you get the other person's name as well.

* Repeat his name and use it a few times during the conversation. This helps you to remember it, and it also helps develop rapport.

* Maintain an animated facial expression. This makes you appear more interesting and likable.

Small talk need not be intimidating. It is just a way to start a conversation and make contact with another person. When done well, it can lead to big talk!