Throughout the communication literature there is much research, theory, and discussion on small group leadership. There are even textbooks in group and team leadership. But, there’s little on conversational leadership. Who leads a simple social conversation? What makes a conversational leader? [By “conversational leader” I simply mean someone who controls and literally leads the conversation in the direction he or she desires.] What does a conversational member do that results in attaining leadership? Here are a few thoughts on conversations that are largely face-to-face, though with minor adjustments, they can easily apply to social networking conversations.
1. The conversational leader chooses the topics of the conversation. Actually, the conversational leader not only chooses the topics but changes them.
2. The conversational leader speaks differently—more loudly usually and in more varied and animated style.
3. The conversational leader maintains eye contact with the entire group—lest someone’s attention stray from the conversation.
4. The conversational leader speaks with authority—for example, the conversational leader doesn’t use tag questions that ask for approval, doesn’t overdo the qualifiers (maybe, possibly, perhaps), and doesn’t use lots of disclaimers (I didn’t read the entire article, but… or I’m really telling you the truth…).
5. The conversational leader is rarely at a loss for words and so has few pauses or awkward silences—a definite asset since the silence would be an opportunity for another to assume the speaker’s turn.
6. The conversational leader is generally interesting and knowledgeable—as is to be expected for someone who selects the topics of discussion.
7. The conversational leader maintains leadership by ignoring turn-requesting cues.
8. The conversational leader involves listeners and makes them feel important; this leader is complimentary, polite, and positive toward listeners, and polite (despite ignoring the turn-requesting cues of others).
9. The conversational leader seeks and acknowledges backchanneling cues of confirmation (head nods, smiles, and minimal verbal cues such as Yes, Right, or Exactly. This helps maintain one’s leadership position.
10. The conversational leader takes a seat that will enable him or her to survey the entire group—eye contact is essential in maintaining a leadership position.
11. The conversational leader maintains an active posture—rarely sinking into a chair but more likely to sit on the edge of the chair—perhaps making it easier to get up and move about.
12. The conversational leader uses attention getting devices throughout the talk—making sure that the others know that what is coming is interesting, something new, or juicy.
13. The conversational leader uses lots of immediacy cues—smiles, direct eye contact, light touching on the arm, and close distance, for example.