You see your ideal partner sitting across the table of Starbuck having a quiet cup of coffee. He or she is dressed casually. They don’t look intimidating. They are attractive. They are also alone. The hundreds of possibilities run through your head. You want to try start a new conversation with them. However, you freeze and you don’t know what to say, much less how to say it. Or maybe you’re at a networking session are you see the hiring manager of your dream job at your dream company standing beside a booth. You’re thinking of what to say in a situation like this.
How many of us experienced similar situations like this? How do you talk to anyone even if you aren’t naturally “extroverted”?
Talking to anyone and starting conversations is a skillset that anyone can learn.
Firstly, there are good conversational mindsets that can make or break any conversation.
This can be done by adopting conversational mindsets such as 1) using effective language, 2) learning the art of making statements, 3) creating endless conversation threads by actively listening and 5) understanding the mechanics of how to connect deeply with anyone.
Mindset 1: Lower The Bar For a Conversation
The first step to starting a conversation with a stranger and making sure you never run out of words is to lower the bar for conversation.
In my earlier days, I was notorious for being too witty or lost in abstract arguments in my head. It single handedly submarined a lot of social, romantic and business opportunities. Only relying on pure wit or intellect is actually a horrible way to start a conversation, or talk to anyone in general.
The need for serious or deep talk in the first couple of minutes is a narrative from movies you watch growing up where the actors and actresses often come up with witty lines and the ‘perfect moment’ to start talking to someone new. In reality, this is far from the truth. Starting a new conversation is always a little awkward at first, just keep it simple.
Mindset 2: Statements Versus Questions
Have you ever had someone who you just got to know ask you repetitive questions? I bet you have. It also felt irritating. Guess what, people feel the same way as well. Let’s not treat new conversations like an interview, shall we?
In general, statements offer more ‘social value’ and opportunity for the other party to get a conversation going.
Instead of going down the usual route of interviewing someone and asking questions… you can make statements. This way you’re giving your input and giving them a window to respond to that statement.
The trick here isn’t to just stick to statements. It is to mix in statements and questions. However, if you were just to stick to statements, most people will not know how to respond. From my experience, they’re just too used to people asking questions all the time and haven’t built any social skills to share themselves.
Making statements is a better conversational habit as compared to asking questions and waiting for their reply. Of course, if you were to make both statements and ask questions and they won’t respond, it means that they are not ready to talk to someone new.
Don’t take it personally and move on.
If you’re sticking to questions, you don’t get to express your identity and you don’t really grease the wheels to hep them express themselves. The other party got to take part minimally in a conversation for the interaction to go well.
Mindset 3: Listening Actively
One of the common pitfalls of learning how to talk to anyone is to only talk about yourself and only showing interest in the topics that you yourself are interested in.
One time, I went out with one of my girl friends. She had relationship woes. For three hours straight, she went on was how shit of their ex-boyfriend treated her. That spanned the whole of three damned hours. Whilst I’m perfectly cool with lending a listening ear, it just got downright exasperating and I felt like killing myself at the end of the session.
One a side note: if you want to feel better about yourself it’s better to step outside of yourself and empathise with someone else’s problems. Instead of having a self-defeating loop in your mind, merely focused on your own problems, your own trouble or your own pain. It helps, try it.
If you’re genuinely interested in the world of others, it will lead you to a lot more conversational opportunities than just sticking to your own topics.
Take a good listen to people around you. Everyone’s attempting to jam their point of view down everyone else’s throat. No one’s truly listening.
Conversational at the end of the day is a two-way thing. Yes, you get to share your story, once they are done listening to yours, do make a point to listen to their story. Part of being interesting is being genuinely interested remember?
Mindset 4: Use Effective Language
One way to be a great communicator is by using effective language. This means using the shortest number of words possible to in conversation to get your point across. You would rather have 5 minutes of awesome conversation as opposed to 15 minutes of beating around the bush. You will come off as more well spoken and charismatic.
This means removing ‘ahh’ ‘you know’ and ‘erhms’ and other filters when you’re conversing.
This doesn’t mean you speak like a robot either. You can use different tonality and pace to get more emotion across in your conversations. Writing and keeping a journal can help with this skillset.
When there’s nothing to say, don’t feel like a need that you have to say something. That’s part of being grounded in your social interactions. There’s no need to fill every silent gap with something to say. In psychology, it’s said that people who can’t help but ramble on to ‘keep the peace’ may be displaying a form of anxious attachment.
When in doubt, ask yourself, ask yourself, are you saying something because you’re afraid of the silence or the slight confrontation? If the answer is Yes, then it’s OKAY to keep to yourself. Remember, you don’t need permission to speak to anyone, or not speak to anyone.
Skillset 1: Asking Innocuous Questions
I used to think that simple questions sounded stupid and it’s ‘impractical’ to ask someone on such questions. However, I realised innocuous questions are a mere social tool and conversational starter to get some social juices going when talking to strangers.
No one goes deep into their life story in the first few minutes of getting someone new, and no one expects a life story within the first few minutes either.
Some example of innocuous questions:
You’ll be surprised how far these innocuous questions can help is starting a conversation with an interesting stranger.
Skillset 2: Making Simple Observations
Secondly, you can also start a conversation with a stranger by making simple observations. You can get creative with this. It can be something in the current environment you’re in, it can be the nicely tailored suit that he’s wearing, or the cute blue toenails she has spent hours on. It can be the weather. It can be the fake tan she has on. (I’m kidding)
Just like asking innocuous questions, think of it as a conversational starter. Once you get small talks like that going, you can follow these observations up with a question, or a cold read.
Skillset 3: The Art of Cold Reading
Cold reading is the art of making an intelligent guess about something about someone. It doesn’t matter if you’re wrong or right. The point of it is to get the conversation going. It’s one of the most effective and a bread and butter of conversational tools that you should include in your daily life if you’re looking to improve your social and conversational skills.
Cold reading is done by making harmless neutral assumptions with the people you are talking with.
Examples of Cold Reading:
The thing about cold reading and guessing is that you never go wrong with it. If you get it wrong, he or she will correct you, and perhaps add onto it. If you’re spot on, they’ll likely to think that you’re quite perceptive and may engage with you in conversation because of that. Just last week I got most of my cold reads right by chance by guessing a girl was half Japanese and was studying at the University of London. She reacted positively and was curious how did I know so much. I followed up by teasing that I stalk her daily on Facebook and Instagram.
Through cold reading, you can keep conversational threads flowing and then relate these threads back to your own life with your own experiences.
I’ve personally used this conversational tool thousands of times to spark new conversations or in the middle of dying conversations threads. It works every time.
Cold reading is a skillset that you can use to make statements. Even simple ones that include making observations about the environment or something that catches your eye. It’s possible to turn every question into a statement. For example, instead of asking what someone does for a job, why not make a statement that they looks like they work in creative line or looks like a teacher and etc.
If you get it wrong, they’ll correct you. If you get it right, they’ll be quite surprised at how intuitive you are. There are no loses to making cold reads.
You can also make statements about your day to day life. Instead of worrying what to ask next, you can just go off randomly on your day or events that interest you: ‘I hate my boss, he just made me do two times the work today’.
It’s better to be random and interesting than to be predictable. However, don’t be too random, as it won’t work in an Asian setting.
Statements done right can inspire someone to find out more about yourself. It can inspire someone to ask more questions about you. This way, it’s a two sided conversation.
Caveat: I’d like to add that questions are alright in an Asian setting, most Asian aren’t really equipped with the social skills to lead the interaction, you’ll be required to do a little bit of babysitting by mixing questions with statements.
Now that you have started a conversation, so how do you keep a conversation going with anyone and how to never run out of words? In new social interactions, you have to assume to the burden of taking the lead, to start, to continue and to lead in the conversation. Instead of ending your conversations with one-word answers: Yes or No, try to end it with stories, statements and specifics.
There’s a misconception that people pay attention to words and phrases. However, it’s the meaning of the conversation that people are more interested in. If you just pay attention to to phrases and words, it may result in an unnatural conversation. It’ll seem as if you’re trying to keep this conversation going and you’re afraid of silences.
The secret to creating endless conversational topics is to get good at improvisation. You can only get better with this skill by learning from stand up comedians. I started off studying George Carlin and Louis CK, however, their style of comedy can be quite dark and self depreciating. That’s not really good for most situations. One of the good comedians to check out is Russell Brand and Russell Peters.
The best way to get good at this is to gain an appreciation of language.
Can you come off as charismatic when talking to anyone? Starting conversations is an important skill. However, learning how to continue them in a dynamic manner is also equally important.
Ever know someone who went on and on and on… you can’t help but quietly look away hoping he gets the signal that he’s being too too long-winded? Or maybe you know someone who awkwardly attempts to fit in a joke in his conversations?
Human beings, by nature, are enrapt by stories. People in power, businessmen, priests (erhem), comedians, and politicians all use the art of storytelling to explain, persuade and influence others to their way of thinking.
In the dating advice for men community, memorising stories and routines are popular methods. Whilst this might work in the short run, there’s going to come a point of time where you’re going to run out of words. Hence, I advocate understanding the principles of what makes a dynamic conversation and apply them using your own life stories and experiences.
Learning how to tell a story in a structured, and interesting manner will make you a good conversationalist.
Every great story has a rough three-step process that anyone can use.
The set up gives context to the conflict of the story. It’s the general setting, such as the location and brief details of the story. The set up should be as short as possible. But it’s necessary to give the initial context and foundation for the follow-up of the complete story.
If you don’t set up your stories, you’ll come off to others as random in your conversations.
One simple one lined example of the “set up” would be this:
“I was attending my school orientation the other day. Whilst watching the orientation games, there was this girl that tripped and fell. I was an asshole about it and laughed a little.”
It’s descriptive and gives background to the story.
The conflict is the part where you introduce the majority of the story. This should be the part that causes tension and expectancy. The content of the story needs to be captivating and hook others into wanting to know what will happen next. If there isn’t much conflict in the content of your stories, you will get the feeling that you ramble on a lot and others are not paying attention to you.
To continue to story from the set up:
“One of the most attractive girls in the whole of the camp took me by surprise and gave me a smack on my arm. I actually froze up! I froze up and walked away like an idiot! I should have just said something out of my mouth or smacked her back. But I didn’t. I retardedly froze up and walked away.”
“However, I never really felt right, that’s because I didn’t want myself worth to be judged on how many girls date, or anything like that. I also felt I wasn’t experienced enough to coach guys that might be twice my age.”
The resolution and the punchline are where you insert ‘the moral of the story’, the ‘punchline’ and the ‘joke’ to end off the story, or just closure for a generic story. People who don’t conclude their stories properly will often get blank stares when they’re finished speaking, or people will ask them “Yeah, and…?”
To end off the story with a punchline:
“Lesson learned! Never ever stand beside an attractive woman during orientation games.” (Joke)
“Nonetheless, I’ve decided to give it a shot, as long as I do my research, and stick to my values, and business values, I’m sure it’ll turn out alright.”
These are all true stories by the way.
Learning how to tell stories in a dynamic and interesting manner is a conversational habit has helped me over the years with strangers, sales and persuading others in my business and dating life. Learning how to structure your conversations is going to be helpful for everything from sales presentations, networking events, casual conversations and other forms of social interactions. It can also make or break a romantic interaction when you’re expected to lead in conversation.