Being able to hold good conversation is the foundation of every social interaction. Without this ability, getting past small talk and building stronger connections is damn near impossible. We talk to people every single day yet we get nervous and struggle during the moments that matter most.
I’ve always been decent at riffing with people I already knew or was introduced to in a casual setting, like school or parties. But over the last few years in the real world, I’ve had to learn how to converse with many different people in many different situations. While talking to a friend the other night, he asked me how he could get more comfortable speaking with people, too. I told him the following points that best helped me:
Stay in the conversation
Get out of your own head and into the conversation. I used to think I was an excellent listener until I noticed how I couldn’t even remember names. It went like this “Hi, I’m Megan.” “Hey, I’m Nick.” Two seconds later in my head I’m thinking “Oh crap, what was her name?”
If you’re thinking about what to say next you’re not involved enough. Talking to friends is easy because you’re listening rather than being worried about sounding stupid. Slow down, relax, and become genuinely interested in what other people are saying. It makes it ten times easier to relate and respond effectively.
Asking questions are great for getting to know someone, when used wisely. The problem is question are easy and too often used as a crutch when at a loss for words. We resort to interviewing the person with question after question. It’s boring, awkward, and puts too much pressure on the other party.
Statements are much more comforting and natural. They make the conversation flow and feel like you’ve known each other for a long time. That’s why they call it “shooting the shit” like you do with friends. I overcame my dependence on questions by forcing myself to only use statements for the first five or so minutes. At most, I would throw a question out to get the ball rolling.
Rephrase your questions as statements. Instead of “Where are you from?” try “You’re definitely a Boston girl.” Make an observation about them and take a shot. Break into a story, tell a joke, or playfully tease and banter with a girl. By restricting yourself to use more statements, you will develop your wit and ability to improvise.
Use hook points
Have no idea what to say next? Most of the time, everything you need is already there, you just have to pay attention. Hear what the other person is saying and build off of that.
Let’s use the example above, “You’re definitely from Boston.” Say the other person responds with “Actually, I’m grew up on a farm in Pennsylvania but I moved here five years ago.” Your hook points are farm, Pennsylvania, why they moved, and even childhood (growing up).
Now, you can take one of those points and relate back to them. It could be something cool you know about Pennsylvania, maybe you grew up on a farm too, or a childhood story. “No way, I just came back from PA last month! I did the whole touristy thing but the best part was the night I spent at an Amish inn.” And now you’re into an awesome story.
Make a note of what people say and use that to build, branch off, and connect with them. Start off simple and when you feel more comfortable you can lead the conversation deeper or somewhere completely new. You’ll never run out of things to say.
Ask questions you care about
As I said, you want to use your questions wisely. Too often we just barrage people with questions that don’t interest either party. Then the conversation goes nowhere, you don’t know what to say, and you ask another weak question. If you ask boring questions, you’ll get boring answers, and respond with your own boring insight.
Don’t just ask questions for the sake of it, it’s not an interrogation. Start inquiring about things that are important to you and that’ll get you excited to talk about as well. Ask thought-provoking questions, ask about their passions, ask something you really want to find out about them.
Especially with women, discover what matters to you in a romantic partner and inquire about that. When I stopped asking BS stuff like, “So do you come here often?” and started asking “What music are you into?” “What are you passionate about?” and “Do you consider yourself a sexual person?” my conversations went from stale to stimulating.
Keep in mind, the more difficult and personal questions you ask will require more trust from the other person. Start off with the lighter ones and get deeper after a few minutes.
Have an opinion
Get passionate and speak from the heart, damn it! Nobody wants to talk to someone who’s just agreeing to agree. They want to talk to someone with heart, fire, and who has something unique to say. Never be afraid to speak your mind and hide who you are. Always express your beliefs and your opinions openly.
Now don’t go and start arguing for no reason, but stand up for what you believe in. You can’t always be afraid of what other people will think, or you’ll never be your authentic self. The people that will like you for who you are are the ones you want to connect with.
Get proactive and practice
Listen, feeling at ease when talking to different people is hard. It takes time, effort, and dedication. It took me years of consistent practice to get to the point where I felt I could be myself in almost any situation. It’s all about developing your emotional intelligence, which is a topic I’m going to address in another article.
Start practicing the basics. Make eye contact with people throughout the day. Smile and greet everyone you come across in your daily life. Force yourself to say Hi to the tollbooth operator, the barista, and even the guy in the elevator. Seriously, it seems silly but getting used to speaking with all different people is critical to becoming good at conversation on the fly.
Take it further. Approach the girl at the coffee shop, gym, bar, wherever. Swallow your fears and just do it. Every time you hold back is another opportunity to build your social confidence. Overcoming my fear of approaching new people was the single most important factor in making me a better conversationalist.
Keep pushing your comfort zone, putting yourself out there, and you will become socially confident. It’s only a matter of time and the more effort you put in, the easier it gets.
Stay classy, just ask me how.