Yup! We all know them. Those disgusting people who can get into any situation and seem to fit in perfectly with the conversation. They seem to feel at home with any crowd and can turn a bunch of strangers into friends in moments. In fact, they can do this in the time it takes you and me to munch on a couple of delicious sandwiches, drink a glass of punch, and fade onto the wallpaper.
I guess it’s one of those things you were born with or grew up with.
Or is it?
Like many things in life, being able to feel comfortable around strangers, having conversation about little-known topics, and hanging out on the other side with new friends or business contacts is a skill that can be learned. While being born with certain genes or being raised in a certain way can definitely help, you can learn how to get around those supposed limitations and you may even end up being better than those who seem to have an edge over you.
While entire courses and training programs may be dedicated to turning the blandest wallflower into a thriving conversationalist and bon vivant, here are some tips to help you strengthen your “gift” of gab to the point where you too can join the crowd there. corner and witty speech on the subject at hand … usually.
1. Start with who you are. Never pretend. If you are a gardener and the topic is rocket science, listen and learn. When the garden crowd recedes, there is YOUR chance to shine. You simply won’t be the center of attention, nor even a small source of wit and wisdom in any conversation.
2. Listen and learn. Since we mentioned it above, let’s explore this a bit. First of all, you can often seem wiser than you by keeping your mouth shut. While it’s closed, listen to that rocket scientist. Maybe the technical, dry details are over your head, but it might say something that makes sense to you and you can use the information in a conversation later on. It may pique your interest in the subject and what better source of reference than to ask the learned speaker what his advice on how to learn more would be.
3. Be patient. We’ve already established that you don’t want to jump over your head and could still benefit from the speech. However, no matter how elevated the topic is, any conversation can often shift to other, more mundane topics, particularly if there are others, like you, who are unaware of highly technical matters.
4. Be curious. As previously mentioned, asking a pertinent question or even professing ignorance in the hope of enlightenment will generate sparks of familiarity with the speakers. More than once, I’ve seen several experts practically compete with each other in their attempts to simplify and communicate a difficult topic to someone who seemed genuinely interested. Either way, people like to have their ego stroked and give them the opportunity to demonstrate their mastery of the subject, or asking them for their opinion can really get the juices flowing. In the midst of all of this, you learn more, make new friends and feel more comfortable within the group.
5. Admit mistakes and ignorance, take the blame, laugh at yourself. One of the easiest ways to make others comfortable is to admit your ignorance. When you start a statement or question by letting others know that you may not know what you are talking about, they feel less “threatened” if that’s a good word. It is a puzzle in all directions when someone admits ignorance or error. Most people feel inclined to forgive those who may admit their mistakes or lack of knowledge. They will also feel more comfortable if you can laugh at yourself.
6. Have a sense of humor. While many topics are serious and don’t allow for a lot of room for humor, most people in a conversation are generally open to humor as long as it’s not mocking or of the key cop variety. Of course, if the group is just cutting, then cut with them.
7. Educate yourself. The essence of feeling comfortable in a group is knowing that you are as informed as anyone else there. While you may regularly feel this way at work, where you are a peer, it could be quite different at a party or on a date where your counterpart might be from some other field or social group. Keeping up with the basics of current affairs events in the fields of politics, business, sports, science, health, and entertainment gives you footholds to stand above the crowd in many places of conversation.
It also helps to keep up with the popular books and movies of the moment. Even if you can only go around reading or seeing one, and that is NOT the one in question, you will at least have an idea of what many other popular books (or movies or TV shows) of the moment are about and possibly be able to ask questions. rationales that give those familiar with the subject the opportunity to shine.
8. Get ready. While education as mentioned above is a daily process and may not have much depth, preparation can go much deeper. There are two ways this can turn you into a conversation center.
** Become an expert on a particular topic or area. It might be a hobby, or you might just find something that interests you and might interest others. For example, if you were an expert on precious stones, politics, ancient coins, rare books, health or fitness, there will be opportunities for you to speak up about your subject. If it’s a topic you feel deeply about, the depth of your feelings will often shape your presentation and speech in a way that leaves an impression on your listeners.
** Cram before the event if possible. If you’re planning on being an investor, learn some investment terminology. If you have questions while reading that the books or tapes don’t seem to answer, save those. You may have the option to ask a real (or alleged) expert.
9. Encourage others to talk. If Jane is commenting on a topic and seems to be reaching the end, encourage her to move on. You can simply say “tell me more” or you can ask a question as mentioned above. If Jane is standing in the crowd and you know she can’t wait to say something, ask something like, “Jane! Haven’t I heard of this before?” Of course, if you have no idea what Jane is thinking, shut up and leave her alone.
10. Follow up. If people interest you, or want to know more about the topics covered, get names and numbers, ask for business cards and bring some of your own. Call them later to tell them how much you enjoyed the conversation, invite them to meet you for lunch or a cup of coffee, or send them a small gift that somehow relates to the experience.
A few months ago, I attended a presentation given by an editorial editor of a local newspaper. In the process of his presentation, I realized that many of his points were similar, if not the same, to some points expressed in a book I liked. I chatted with him after the presentation for only a couple of minutes, but I managed to ask him if he had ever read the book. He admitted he didn’t but he seemed interested, even taking a moment to grab a business card and write down the title of the book and the author’s name.
Later, while I was checking on Amazon, I realized that I could get him a copy sent to him for a few dollars and I did. A few days later, he contacted me, thanking me for the book. He and I have been communicating occasionally since then, and he has offered me encouragement and advice on my writing, and even suggested joining a professional organization that I didn’t even know existed.
One of the most important investments you can make in any “growing stock” is in the quantity and quality of your personal and business contacts AND your friends. Life is much easier for those who have invested wisely and extensively in these. With a good list of friends and professional contacts, the next job is easier to find, the solution to the next problem is in your address book, the right contact is a phone call away, and life is truly a pleasant transition.
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