RANDTed: stmaverick at 3:05:00 AM
(this guide was written with the help from several sources: WikiHow, Art of Schmooze, Success Training Inc., AskMen.com, Scott H Young and The Winning Attitude)
I originally put this up on my blog, but since I thought it'd be useful for a lot more people, I put it up here on RANDTS as well. =D
Don't we all know the feeling of insecurity that some of us get when we're around people? And when you're finally face-to-face with one person, all by yourselves, you're hit with the ultimate dilemma - you have no idea what to say next!
The problem of not knowing what to say to someone you've just met is more than just an embarrassing silence - it can be a severe confidence-breaker for any person who knows it all too well. If you've had this problem for awhile, isn't it time you started taking steps to change things? Here are some handy tips I've compiled from the Internet (what a useful tool it is!), coupled with my own opinions and experiences, to help you out!
There's always a first time for everything. Panicking isn't really of any use to you because it doesn't improve the situation, but can do a lot to mess it up. Some people are just so nervous that they'll screw up big time that they fuss over their hair, their clothes, their hands, their food, their drink, whether they're standing too far, too close, are they giving enough attention...
Quit worrying! Go over to them, say "Hi", give your best smile - make sure it's not the kind of smile that'll scare people off with your enthusiasm! - and shake hands firmly. Look them in the eyes and introduce yourself to them.
(For those of you too shy to do so, here's a tip: look at the bridge of their nose, the spot exactly between both their eyes. That way, people will still have the impression that you're looking at them. Just remember not to stare.)
Speak slowly and audibly enough for them to catch what you're saying. You don't want to give people the impression you work on a bullet train for a living.
If there are lulls in the conversation, don't fret! Use the pause to reflect back on your conversation so far. Was there anything interesting in the conversation that you've just had? Did you miss something the other party had said earlier? Then mention it and keep the conversation going.
Don't Get Too Personal
There's always a time and place to tell people about your most heart-wrenching breakup to date, and when you're with new faces, it's never that time. Ask yourself: is that really what people want to hear?
When you're around people whom you've known for quite some time, they listen to you speak about personal matters because they already know you to some extent. When you start to get into matters that concern you around new people, they're likely to be a little apprehensive considering the fact they barely know you yet, and already you're opening yourself up for them.
People don't really learn about you from what you say. The way you say things are much more important. How you speak and carry yourself in the presence of others tells them much more about you than an hour-long narrated autobiography would. Unless you've grown up around Madonna and Elvis Presley your whole life, people aren't really that interested in you - yet.
Of course, since conversation is about two parties interacting, you'd better make sure you're learning from others about them while you're busy teaching others about you. On that note, we move on into:
Let Others Do the Work and Take Credit for It
The art of great conversation is not about doing all the talking and hogging the limelight. The trick is that most great conversationalists get others to do the talking for them. Not 'talk' as in the ventriloquist's puppet; 'talk' as in they get others to speak while they listen!
Let's face it, the most interesting topic everyone loves is the one about 'me, myself, and I'. Everyone can't resist the temptation to talk about their own lives to the whole world! Why else are personal blogs so prolific on the Internet? ;)
To get people to respond more enthusiastically to your questions, try asking more open-ended questions. These kind of questions are basically impossible to answer with just one word (unless the other person wants to come across as being impossibly dumb), and start like:
- What did you think about [blank]?
- How did you [blank]?
- What did you like best about [blank]?
- Tell me about [blank]...
When people answer these kind of questions, they tend to give long, detailed answers rather than simple ones. After that, you can pretty much set the direction of the conversation based on what they have just said. Through this method, you'll also be able to find out the other side's interests, and draw them in to the conversation even more.
Of course, looking for something to fill the [blank] parts would be pretty difficult, wouldn't it? And here's where it's important to:
Pay Attention: Be Observant
Sure, anyone can talk about the weather, but how many people would be interested in taking the conversation in a different direction from where you started? Not many, I can tell you that - not unless you combined the weather cliche with one of the questions I showed you above.
Sometimes, the easiest way to start a conversation is also the simplest. Just pay attention to your surroundings. Look for something that's out-of-the-ordinary and worth talking about. Focus on the person you're talking to; what is he/she wearing? Are there any interesting accessories that he/she's got on?
Ask about them - or better still, compliment it (sincerely, if you please - no one enjoys apple-polishing, even if they're the apple), then ask him/her about it: where it came from, for example. Then follow the steps I've shown you before and take the conversation your way.
The Art of Active Listening
Remember that being observant also means being attentive to the other party. Listening is a very powerful act that builds trust and self-esteem. These two things naturally increase as people talk to you more and more. Of course, since conversations are two-way, what you really need is the art of active listening.
Active listening means showing the other party that you've been paying attention. Listen to what they're saying, then pause momentarily (this is important) before responding to them. One effective response would be to paraphrase their words. Therefore, you'd start off with something like, "So what you're saying is ..." and you'd go on to repeat whatever they said in your own words.
(The pause is crucial because besides buying you time to formulate a reply, it also allows whatever the other party has said to sink in a little deeper so you understand them better. Plus, it shows people that you're taking them seriously and you're not just eager to get a word in for the sake of it. If you find you still don't know what to say, you could ask them to clarify what they've said, and take the conversation from there.)
Also, while they're busy talking, use occasional nods of the head, and say "Yes" or "I see" or "That's interesting". The idea is to show people that you're paying attention to them, and not thinking about something else. It's a ridiculously simple tool to get conversations going and to build new friendships.
Tell Great Stories
Some great conversationalists keep a database of funny and witty anecdotes in their head that they can relate in a conversation to lighten the mood and perk up their other party's attention. However, there's a key to just what you should say and what not to say in order not to wind up with a bored listener (or worse, more) when you're done.
- Make sure your story is interesting. Have at least a few interesting points to share in the course of your talking. Make sure it isn't long, unless you have more than one interesting point to tell. Space the interesting bits out to break the monotony and keep people hooked.
- Put the most interesting point at the end of the story. Your story should build up to the inevitable climax, not degrade gradually till it becomes a boring tale.
- Keep your story personal. Stories about yourself provide a unique insight into your characteristics and personality. Thus, you shouldn't talk about stories that happened to your friends or relatives, i.e. persons whom the people you're talking with wouldn't really know (the world isn't that small - yet). Most people don't really care about people they've never met before. Since you're there in front of them, introduce yourself to them - in a more interesting way.
- Make sure you know your stories well. Pausing to recall a part of your story detracts from the overall mood and doesn't reflect well on your part. Practice reciting these stories, and slowly accustom yourself to get the timing and emphasis right. Have several interesting anecdotes on call that you can use in conversations. One advice: don't grasp for stories. Grasping includes questions like "How was your day?" These questions should be kept as a last resort.
The most important part about the whole thing? Confidence. Without the courage to go up to a person and put all that you've learned into action, everything goes to waste.
Some things to keep in mind to keep up your self-esteem and boost your confidence:
- Dress up a little. Comb your hair (or muss it up stylishly, whichever you fancy), put on some bling, a little cologne/perfume. You don't have to go overboard on style, just make sure you look good. People tend to react more favorably when they have a good first impression of you. The easiest way to gain that would be to present yourself properly.
- Wear something you're comfortable in. It doesn't matter whether it's a formal or informal event - make sure you wear something that suits you, that you like. Make sure it looks presentable, though!
- Body language is important. Stand straight, smile, and just be yourself. No point putting on airs and trying to be somebody you're not. Not only do people quickly see through this trick, they'll also get the impression that you're someone who isn't comfortable about himself.
The above three things help you to present a better image to the world at large. Also, when you look good (and know it), it helps you a little in being a little more daring, a little more confident. Coupled with the positive reaction from others around you, you'll naturally feel comfortable about yourself - and that helps in getting conversations going.
And When it Ends...
Of course, not everyone is bound to succeed all the time. Hell, I've had my fair share of awkward moments too. But remember, always keep in mind that failure's never a barrier to achieving more. It's only a sign you need more practice, and need to try more!
If you did get a conversation going - even if it was only for a short while - then kudos! You are that much closer to being a great conversationalist. Before you part with your companion, shake hands, smile, and say thank you before moving on. The least you can do is leave politely. Never think you can't do it. Most great conversationalists were not born; they were made.
Conversations with new people shouldn't have to be something arduous, like a chore. It should be something fun that we look forward to, like a challenge to be overcome. The important things to keep in mind are to keep your cool and refrain from talking too much about yourself. Get others interested in you by getting them to do the talking, then listen attentively to them. Share interesting anecdotes with your partners, and dress well to give them a good first impression.
Hope this guide helped you out, and good luck in all your endeavors!
Note from the blogger:
This is my first How-To guide. Comments and feedback from all of you would be really appreciated. Is there anything I could improve on? Do you have any requests or suggestions on other How-To guides you'd like to see? Please comment and help me improve my writing. Thank you! :)
~verus rara avis~