good conversationMany years ago on a visit to Ireland, I kissed the fabled Blarney Stone, rumored to give you the gift of gab for the rest of your life. (And I truly earned that gift of gab – to kiss it, you are lowered upside down by your ankles from the top of the castle tower, nearly 100 feet in the air.)

Luckily for you, there are other ways to master the art of conversation that don’t involve hanging by your ankles. They involve specific skills that anyone can learn, which are particularly profitable for entrepreneursyou can use them everywhere from networking to negotiation, not to mention building real and lasting relationships with others. Here are five simple, practical techniques that will help you schmooze with the best of them:

1. Minimal encourages. This is a term from my “day job” of psychotherapy. It describes what we say as we are listening to someone – for example, small interjections such as, “I see,” or “Tell me more about that.” They let other people know you are locked in on what they are saying while they have the floor.

The first rule of great conversation is to *rock* your minimal encourages. Practice using ones that fit your personality, but shine with enthusiasm and interest: “Wow!” “Fascinating!” “That must have been incredible.” “Absolutely!” Choose the right words, and then practice delivering them with as much energy as possible. This one step alone will make you stand out as an engaging person to talk to.

2. Good acknowledgements. If someone told you that they had won the lottery – or experienced something horrible – many of us frankly wouldn’t know how to respond. Knowing the mechanics of acknowledgment is the single biggest way to make other people feel heard and felt. The details of this could fill an entire book (and have), but here is a quick summary: paraphrase what they say, observe what they are feeling, validate that other people feel the same way, or identify personally with them.

3. Good questions. Our genial host Carol Roth put it best – most of us are tuned in to the radio station WII-FM (What’s In It For Me). Have three to five good questions in your back pocket, ready to ask people about themselves – or simply follow the lead of their conversation.

4. The 3-to-1 rule. Of course, you can’t just minimally encourage, acknowledge and question people all dayit would quickly become a one-way conversation that feels more like an interrogation than a dialogue. Plan to say at least one thing about yourself for every three exchanges with the other person. Of course, if you are more gregarious, there is no problem making this the 2-to-1 rule or even the 1-to-1 rule. (Just don’t dominate the conversation and make it the 1-to-3 rule.)

5. Linking. When it is your turn to talk, the very best thing you can do is link what they just said to whatever you are about to say. It’s easy: take their story, find something you have in common with it, and make that the start of your story. (“That’s fascinating how you handled setting boundaries with your employee. I always look up to people who have good negotiating skills. I had a similar situation with one of my most challenging customers …”)

These skills all combine with the one thing you can’t learn or fake – your natural sincerity – to make a real change in the way you connect with people. And the good news is that these skills all get better with practice.

Whether you are naturally shy or outgoing, you will be surprised at the difference a few conversational mechanics can make with people, in your business and in your life. And that’s no Blarney.