We have all been there.
You’re in a room full of people and you were having a fun conversation with one of your friends and a girl he introduced to you. But at one point he leaves for the bathroom. So here you are standing next to this girl, clueless what to talk about.
With her big eyes, she is looking at you, waiting for you to tell a funny story. The pressure is real. Your palms start sweating, knees feel weak and your arms are heavy. Your face turns redder than Mom’s spaghetti sauce.
* God, this silence is taking a little too long… *
In the absence of sound, you can hear your heart pounding in your chest.
* Wait, why is she looking around? *
* Is she looking for her friends? *
* Does she think I’m boring? *
There must be something we can talk about. At least say something. Literally anything will do.
“It was raining quite heavily this afternoon.”
REALLY? That is all I could think of? The weather?!
After this awkward exchange, your friend comes back from the bathroom. Thank god.
How To Get Rid of Boring Conversation
Just imagine how different this situation could have been if you were able to grasp the girl’s attention and never let it go. What if you could enter every conversation with confidence?
One of our biggest fears when socializing with others, is that we are boring.
But there is one thing we need to acknowledge right now:
No person is boring, but we feel boring.
Boring is a state of mind. We get the feeling that we come across as boring, because we fail to understand what makes our lives interesting or we cannot effectively communicate exciting stories. So from now on, I don’t ever want to hear you say that you are boring. With the tips below, people will listen to your stories breathlessly and hang on your every word.
It is all about what you say and how you say it.
How To Talk So People Want To Listen
Create Story Gaps
A great way to make people listen attentively to your story, is by creating a story gap. A story gap is when you give the listener a hint of how the story ends to spark curiosity, then you fill in the blanks.
To show you an example how this works, imagine you want to tell the following story:
Last week you were sitting at home, and suddenly you felt this intense craving for fast food. You drive over to Burger King and order a Whopper meal. As you were looking around for a spot to sit, a man gestured to you that he and his family were just about to leave. You walk up to the table and the guy wants to stand up, but he steps on a onion ring and his foot slips. To regain his balance, he grabs the table, but also squashing a bag of tomato ketchup in the process. The red sauce splashed all over you, and your entire sweater got covered in ketchup. The guy apologizes and hands you a couple tissues to clean yourself up.
This in itself is already a moderately fun story to listen to, but the build-up is a bit too slow. The intro is too long to grasp attention. There is a risk that people will lose interest before the end of the second sentences and interrupt you or simply stop listening. You need to give people a reason to care. You can achieve this by starting your story off with the punchline.
Now obviously, the punchline in this story is being covered in ketchup, so you would start off with:
“I got to tell you about the time I got covered in ketchup at Burger King”
[to make the listener wonder how that happened]
“So last week I was sitting at home and I felt this intense craving for fast food…”
[start the story from the beginning]
It works like a riddle.
You’re asking the other person’s brain to think of all kinds of scenarios.
“Take a guess: How did I get covered in ketchup?”
And starting off with the end result of a story creates a sense of mystery, and people won’t interrupt you until the mystery is resolved. The listener will be so occupied with thinking of what could’ve happened, that they will not think of other stories.
Use words that evoke emotion
Words can be triggers for emotions and feelings. A simple change of word usage can impact the attention you are receiving drastically.
Before telling a story, determine the exact emotional state that you want the listener to get into. Then sprinkle your story with adjectives and nouns that evoke this emotion.
If you want to evoke curiosity:
- Let me tell you a secret
- What no one tells you
- Want to hear a scoop?
- Have you heard about
- Off-the-record, …
- I have confession to make.
- You haven’t heard this from me, but
If you want people to relate:
- Something embarrassing happened the other day
- I was in total panic
- I can be such a coward sometimes
- It was the most pathetic thing ever
- Have you ever felt like
- Talking about awkward situations
- Tuesday was a disaster
If you want to evoke anger:
- Don’t you hate it when
- You know what’s stupid
- Something that really annoys me
- Ever felt like bashing someone’s head in?
If you want to evoke excitement:
- You know what was funny
- Oh it was wonderful
- I feel so blessed to have
- I was thrilled
- It felt like I was on top of the world
In some cases you literally tell the other people what to feel, without it being too obvious. And it works. Once you master this technique, you have full control over what people feel during your stories.
You can link several emotional states together to create a chain of emotions and take your listeners on an emotional rollercoaster they will never forget.
Modulate your voice
Imagine someone who only talks at a single pace with the most monotonous voice ever. Even if the person would talk about the best solution for world peace, I doubt that many people will stay committed to listening.
The story is missing suspense and surprise. You need to keep your conversation partner on his toes.
Now this is an art that will not come easy. But luckily it is trainable. There are a couple of tricks you can keep in mind that will elevate your style of speaking and keep your listeners engaged.
If you want people to listen, firstly make sure that people hear you. You need to speak loud enough that people hear you loud and clear. Do you want to grab attention? Speak louder than the person before you.
Vary the volume of your voice. Most people think that you need to speak loud if you want people to listen. MOST PEOPLE THINK THAT YOUP NEED TO SPEAK REALLY LOUD IF YOU WANT TO PEOPLE TO LISTEN. Well yeah, it works. But not if you speak that loud all the f*cking time.
When you really want people to pay close attention, you start speaking softer. People will lean in, direct their ears at you and look at how your lips move. Most people around you will naturally quiet down and those who don’t listen will be silenced.
Loud and clear, soft and intimate
Changing your volume to match your content plays a key role in getting your message across.
Loud and soft words both serve their purpose. Loud words evoke a sense of excitement, anger or confidence. Soft words evoke a sense of intimacy, secrecy and fragility.
“SO MY GRANDMOTHER DIED THE OTHER DAY, IT WAS SO SAD!!!”
It just does not fit well. Nobody will tell you about their diseased grandmother while shouting at you. You should know when to adapt your volume, but at least you should play around with it. The more you speak in one monotonous voice, the less emotions you convey. The less emotion, the less attention.
Mixing up the pace of your speech is an excellent way to keep people listening. You can do this by varying the length of your sentences. Instead of being a boring narrator, it will be like you are singing your story with an unique melody.
Gary Provost wrote an excellent example on varying sentence-length, that can also be applied on telling stories:
“This sentence has five words. Here are five more words. Five-word sentences are fine. But several together become monotonous. Listen to what is happening. My speech is getting boring. The sound of it drones. It’s like a stuck record. The ear demands some variety.
Now listen. I vary the sentence length, and I create music. Music. My words sing. It has a pleasant rhythm, a lilt, a harmony. I use short sentences. And I use sentences of medium length. And sometimes when I am certain the listener is rested, I will engage him with a sentence of considerable length, a sentence that burns with energy and builds with all the impetus of a crescendo, the roll of the drums, the crash of the cymbals—sounds that say listen to this, it is important.”
So talk with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader’s ear. Don’t just speak words. Write music.”
Whenever we tell stories, we can get too excited or nervous, causing us to rush through our stories. If you are more conscious about your speech and put in a few pauses, you can greatly improve the impact of your sentences.
Moments of silence allow your listeners to recapture what you said and puts extra emphasis on words that come right before or right after. And when you are speaking, you want to do just that — emphasize.
It might be the most underused tool of all — silence.
Listen to silence. It has so much to say.
Animate your speech
There is more to your story than the words you use. Hand gestures are a fundamental part of our communication. When you watch a video on mute, a speaker’s body language will still tell you whether it is a sad, happy or disgusting story.
Hand gestures convey emotions and amplify that emotion in the person you are talking with. So use your hands!
If this is something you struggle with, your best guess is to overdo it. Practice at home in front of a mirror and literally try to picture every word that comes from your mouth. Imagine that you are a pantomime player giving a world-class performance.
Another good way to practice this is by playing charades with friends.
A handful of proof
The impact of hand gestures is enormous. A study by Science of People analyzed hours of TED Talks and found that the use of hand gestures had a significant effect on video performance. The least popular TED Talkers used 272 hand gestures, while the most popular TED Talkers used 465 hand gestures – that’s almost double!
If you need more proof, just look at Italians.
Include other people in your stories
Addressing people is a simple way getting people more engaged in a conversation. You can do this indirectly by taking the end of their story as a starting point for your own story. You can link stories with sentences like:
“Talking about awkward situations…”
“That reminds me of the time…”
“Something similar happened to me…”
Combined with the sentences mentioned in the previous paragraph, you can use this to make your story more relatable before you even started the first sentence.
Probing and calling people out
You can also address people more directly. You can do so by asking a probing question or by calling people out.
“Did you ever wonder how I got this scar?”
“You know what surprises me?”
“You like secrets, right?”
“I thought of you last week when I was…”
“You will find it hilarious what happened to me the other day”
“Hey Jeremy, did I tell you this story about”
This might feel a little unnatural at first. But if you pay close attention to people who grab all attention in a room, or the best public speakers, they seem to do this naturally.
The same old story all over again
If you are thinking of a story that you would like to tell, but you know that one of your conversation partners has already heard it, mentioning the person will help as well. Simply acknowledging them will make them feel special for being the first person to hear the story.
“I was just telling Daniel about the time someone spilled ketchup on my sweater.”
A nice side effect of addressing conversation partners is that people will naturally like you more when you call them out. This is especially true for people you have just met. It shows that you value the other person and that you will need know his/her name in the future, building a relationship. And the more often you repeat their name, the more likely you are going to remember it when you bump into them two months from now. Only wins here.
What To Talk About
Live a life worth telling about
If you do the same stuff every day, you will find it harder to find something new and interesting to talk about. You have to escape your daily routine and get out of your information bubble. Inspiration can literally come from anywhere if you open your mind up to new possibilities.
- Take a different route to work.
- Pick up a new book to read.
- Volunteer at a nursing home for a day
- Try a new sport
- Turn of WiFi for 24 hours
- Type a random combination of two letters into Netflix and go watch the first suggestion the algorithm serves you.
Literally any new experience can be a great start for conversation. Telling about something new allows people to live those experience through you.
Talk to more and new people
Every time you talk to someone new, you are entering an uncharted territory. The conversation can take you anywhere. Not only will these social interactions have a positive effect on your mood, they can also be a source of stories for when you are talking to others.
“I met this guy on the subway…”
“I had a really interesting conversation with a granny at the park…”
“You never guess who I ran into the other day…”
Practice makes perfect
Also by talking to more people, you get more chances to practice your stories. This will help you memorize the essential elements of the story and you can analyze which parts had the most impact.
Basically you are doing exactly the same as a stand-up comedian does. During a tryout, the comedian will try out all of his jokes on a small audience. This interaction provides him valuable feedback.
The first jokes he had to read of a paper, but then he starts to memorize some too. Some jokes may not roll of the tongue that easily as he had in mind. Or he sees that the audience does not react to the punchline the way he imagined. No biggie. He can still rewrite some of the jokes.
But then when it really matters — when he is performing at a huge venue in front of thousands of people waiting to be entertained — he is confident that he will make this audience fall of their chairs laughing out loud.
Find topics you have in common
When you are not that comfortable having conversations, because you don’t know the person well enough, it is best practice to find some common ground first. You can scan the person quickly and think of topics you have in common.
Read the news. Following one of the major news outlets on Twitter or Instagram will do. Most people only read headlines anyway. It is just so you are up-to-date with trending topics that go on the world.
Talk about their favorite topic: Themselves
When you run out of topics to talk about, you can always start talking about everyone’s favorite topic: ourselves. People love talking about themselves. When people are able to vent their stories, they feel a sense of delight. Self-disclosure is gratifying.
Break the ice and melt their heart
The secret to get other people to talk is to ask open-ended questions (what / why / where / when / who / how) and try evoke emotions. Some excellent questions you can use as icebreakers to get any person talking:
- What has taken you the longest to get good at?
- What topic could you give a 20-minute presentation on without any preparation?
- What takes a lot of time but is totally worth it?
- What are some of your guilty pleasures?
- What skill would you like to learn?
- Who had the most influence on you growing up?
- You’re going sail around the world, what’s the name of your boat?
If you don’t like the idea of asking a prepared question, you can also try to improvise your questions. For inspiration, you can do a quick scan of the person. If you see a girl wearing remarkable sneakers, ask her about it. If the guy looks muscular, ask him how long he has been working out. This way you can precede your question with a small compliment. “I really love the tattoo on your wrist, what is the story behind it?” or: “That necklace looks really good on you, where did you get it?”
Once you get the hang of making other people talk, there will never be another awkward silence. And you are not just feigning interest to please the other person. It can also help you produce more stories of your own. The other person might bring topics to the table you weren’t thinking of, providing the perfect segue for telling your own story.
7 Deadly Sins of Speaking
Certain things are not done when you are having a conversations. Julian Treasure called these the 7 Deadly Sins of Speaking; common habits you should try to avoid when engaging in conversations or people will actually dislike talking to you.
How To Turn Awkwardness Into Confidence
by Charisma On Command
We have all been awkward at different points in our lives. Sometimes that awkwardness gets in the way of connecting with other people or even feeling confident in ourselves. But awkwardness doesn’t need to be the end of the line. In fact, if you handle yourself well you can turn awkwardness into confidence.
In this video, you will find why Tom Holland is way less awkward than Mark Zuckerberg. It all comes down to adjusting your body language, being able to handle friendly teasing, sharing embarrassing stories and not giving a fuck about other people’s opinion.