The idea of socializing may be scary to a lot of people, myself included. Take the pic above as an example, until now I still feel jittery about the idea of attending a networking event, talking to people who may be more successful than me and fear not having anything to show, especially when you have felt rejection in the past, when attending a party, networking event or any sort of social gathering.I have read many books about socializing (and also picking up women, college years) and authors saying that it did not matter what you said, as long as you said it confidently. I must disagree with this statement because I believe it truly depends on what your goals are going into every conversation. In my opinion, some basic goals are:
1- Networking, for professional opportunities
2- Make friends for spending adventures together
3- Find out something that intrigues you, so informational interviewing
4- Make time go by faster (such as in a party, and you do not want to be alone, so you small talk to avoid looking like a loner)
I can identify myself with the 4th one, and I am sure many of you have experienced that feeling of being at a social event, and watching circles form, with people talking to each other and us not being a part of any circle. There is so much advise out there about how to socialize, social etiquette, topics of conversation, etc.
I have 6 basic skills that will help me in becoming better at socializing:
1- Being knowledgeable in several topics of conversation
2- Project Positivity
3- Be present and pay attention
4- Vocal tonality, pace
5- Have your logistics planned before hand (go in with a strategy)
6- Appearance, looks and personal hygiene.
THE TWO MAIN SKILLS I WILL BE USING NO MATTER WHAT FROM NOW ON
All of the 6 items described above are important in my opinion, and I am assuming most people already follow number 6 (proper personal hygiene), at least to some extent. Still, the 2 main skills that I will be implementing during the next 365 days and the ones I will be discussing in this post, will be:
1- Being knowledgeable in several topics of conversation
2- Project Positivty
#1 Be knowledgeable in several topics of conversation
If you begin opening up conversations (even with confidence and positivity) but you do not know what to talk about, there is going to be a lot of awkward silences, although it might be helpful to start losing fear of approaching. If you have very good body language but what you are saying doesn’t make much sense, it would be pretty weird as well. I believe that having some basic knowledge about the important current trends, and knowing a lot of some exclusive ones, will give you more than enough to carry out conversations with practically anyone. Of course different people will have different conversations. You can do a decent job without this particular skill by making it about the other person and talking about interests of theirs and also yours and look for patterns, but I believe that ALSO knowing about current trends will provide a lot of benefits to have a solid ground of what to talk about and never run out of things to say. I do believe that asking people about themselves and looking for common interests is necessary, but I also recommend to compliment this with knowing about current trends, just as a safety measure.
HOW TO BECOME KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT DIFFERENT TOPICS?
Share your own experience, take classes, talk to people and learn things, read news and online articles, read books, listen to someone gossiping on the street while waiting for your cab, etc.
If you feel unmotivated at first and you feel like you are back in school reading about a variety of things that might not even apply to your immediate life, think about the end goal, which is to make you a socializing machine. Some people might tell you that as long as you are confident and can get others to talk about themselves you are good to go, and as mentioned above I agree to that to some extent, but there is only so much you can talk about each other before the conversation has to stop, especially if you are not very good at socializing. Think of it as an experiment, you are shifting from a selfish mentality to an offer mentality. Basically you will seek how you can serve others by talking to them. If you are also positive then this combo will guarantee you better social interactions. Will talk about positivity further below.
This is a keystone skill to have, because if you become more knowledgeable about a variety of topics, you will feel smarter, you will walk into any conversation with more confidence, which will allow you to display confident body language, which will then make it easier for you to be humorous, which will then allow you to work on other details that will allow you to perfect your communication skills.
The topics that you will be learning are relative to each one of you. If you just got into fitness group with 10 other people who meet up every weekend to workout, you might want to get more informed about weight loss terms and exercise suggestions, after they are most likely passionate about fitness so talking about this would make the conversation flow naturally (as I will explain how this happened to me, further down).
I ALSO SUGGEST videotaping yourself talking. If you have a website or personal blog, I suggest uploading videos to it so people can see you. This is stepping out of your comfort zone big time.
EXAMPLE OF ME OFFERING KNOWLEDGE, AND USING THE TOPIC TRANSITION TOOL (TTT)
A couple of months ago, I attended a funeral (I was and still am an ambivert) and I remember hoping to my guts that it would be over soon, because of my social anxiety (I am still learning). Usually on these types of scenarios were there are lots of people involved, you either take the lead and start up conversations, you wait for others to approach you, or you stay with your social group all the time. If you do not have a social group and nobody approaches you, then you end up alone in the corner and checking your phone every 30 seconds.
Anyways, after the funeral we all went back to the home of the family of the deceased (I was not too close to the deceased) were we all had lunch and just made small talk among ourselves. I just remained on my corner, waiting for time to go by quickly. My cousin Milagros has lived in Spain throughout most of her adult life, and she met her current boyfriend there, a Danish man called Alexander. I was aware that he was at this gathering so I introduced myself to him earlier, but that was about it. Time went by slowly and then the unexpected happened.
After surviving the social event (back then I did not have a serving and positive mentality towards people, which I do now) for about 3-4 hours, Alexander asked me if the seat next to me was taken (there were other seats available, lots of them), and I immediately took that as an invitation for a conversation. I anticipated this so my instinct told me to be the one to open up, so that if the conversation died at least I could have been the one to initiate it (remember to celebrate small wins). I was aware that he is a personal trainer (not weight lifting, he trains people for marathons and things like that) so I asked him about that, how long he had been doing that and what was he up to, what direction was his business going etc.
What at first seemed as a question which would lead to a 5 minute (polite) conversation, to my surprise turned out to be a 50 MINUTE conversation. I remember Milagros actually had to interrupt us because she was leaving with Alexander. That feeling that people actually have to stop you and that your conversation will have to continue some other time, is gold! The obvious reason why this conversation was such a success, was because we both shared one interest in common, fitness, weight loss, working out, Freeletics, and anything related to this.
This is when it truly hit me, that no matter how shy you can be, or how reserved you can be, if you have something you can talk about with someone out of pure interest, all barriers go down.
Think about the last time (or couple of times) you were in a social scenario. Think about the people you talked to, or the people who you heard talking. What topics were being talked about? In my case I will pick the funeral scenario I talked about. I remember talking to one of my other cousin´s ex boyfriends (he is around 34 years old) about Australia. His family lives there and he is planning on moving there soon as well. Since I am looking for job opportunities here and oversees as well, I talked to him about career prospects over there, the weather, how it would be like if I moved there, we talked about the culture, touristic sites, etc. We talked for about 25 minutes, and it could have gone on for more time if he did not have to leave for work. I was intrigued with the subject and he knew a lot about it, another winning combo for a conversation.
I then talked with my cousin who lives in the USA for a while (he approached me), he opened up to me asking me how I was doing and whether I still played tennis (which he used to play). This was a tricky case because I know he is not as passionate about tennis as I am, so I could not possibly go on and talk for several minutes about tennis tournaments and share experiences, as well as popular tennis trends such as who do you think will win the next grand slam. So I shut down and the shy response came out. I said that I did indeed play tennis, I was practicing for this year´s tournaments and so on. And after about 5 minutes, the conversation was over. I believe there are two things I should have done differently, offer a Topic Transition Tool (TTT), and find a new topic of conversation (lets call this Topic Hunt).
In this case, being knowledgeable about many topics would have been helpful for me. First of all, the topic transition tool (I do not know if anything else has coined this, if not then DIBS, TTT) is basically something you put out there, which helps you find a new and better topic of conversation. An example would be, asking about my cousin´s sons (he has two sons and one daughter). He would give me the cliche answer and tell me they are doing fine, they are doing good in school and so on. The purpose of this tool is only to find a better topic of conversation we both have knowledge about, and are interested in, remember.
Now say that while researching about contemporary topics I run into some articles which talked about some basic pointers for going to college. His oldest son is heading off to college this year, so if he offered this information to me, I would go and talk to him about these pointers. Maybe he will take them, maybe not, but if he truly cares for his son he will feel somehow interested. Because of this topic transition tool we could now spend a good amount of time talking about a subject which I know a lot about, college. If for some reason the conversation starts dying out, just use another topic transition tool, or look for new topics that might emerge within the conversation. Be smart and STRATEGIC about it. For a long time I did not look at conversations from a strategic point of view, only a trivial natural one, but now I believe that if you are struggling with them, you can get a grip and an advantage on them. If you are new to socializing the right way, this might take some time to get used to. Depends on how fast you learn and adapt.
Going back to my cousin, for as long as I have met him, I knew that he cared for his children, that he works hard (he is a Financial Director for Toyota in Texas), he has a nice house, and a nice car. He also enjoys spending time with family and friends, but that is as much as I know about him. I know he is in his 30s, but still I do not know about his passions, what intrigues him and so on. I wouldn’t be able to just straight out ask him about these things (because I would feel awkward), but by using the tools and new topics of conversations I could get him talking about himself more, and open up more opportunities for the conversation to flow. Another example of TTT is to ask him about the Super Bowl, if he says he is a fan of the New England Patriots (a subject which I am not an expert about) and that he truly enjoyed the half-time show, I could get into the show instead of the actual game.
Instead of just starting to learn about every contemporary topic that comes to mind, if you want to implement this technique soon, I suggest you start by learning more about subjects which you can use with people almost immediately, such as with your family, or people you will see this week. Use this broader topic knowledge you have with the transition tool I mentioned, and practice making conversations flow. You will know when it is flowing freely, when time goes by and you are naturally intrigued by the topic. I can tell when I am talking with someone I do not see too often, or a total stranger, and the conversation seems forced, just trying to avoid awkward silence. It feels weird and I just want the conversation to end. I can also tell when it is going freely, like when I talked for about an hour with Alexander, you literally can keep on going, change to a similar subject, or change the subject completely because you now feel comfortable around this person, and so on.
A SIMPLE HACK TO WANT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT EVERYTHING
One huge tip I want to give you if you are struggling with wanting to learn new things, or you feel like it is a tedious task, is to be **curious.** If you are not curious at first, act like you are until it sticks. If you read something which leaves you wondering, that means you are making progress. Just earlier I was reading an article talking about how there will be intense rain in some province areas of my country (Peru). That made me wonder: what is being done to help those people who live in the area? Could this possibly be stopped? Why are the rains so intense, and how is that a threat to those people? There was a shooting here in Lima, a guy broke into a bank and shot 5 people before he was shot and killed. The man had a permit to carry a gun (although it had expired) This made me wonder: How did he manage to get a permit, which by the way requires to pass a mental stability test? Why did he do it, did he have a reason or was he just insane? Why did he pick that location? Where did it happen, is that zone prone to crimes? And so on, and so on.
You see the beauty about practicing curiosity is that it becomes a habit, just like any other behavior practiced over a long time. You begin questioning EVERYTHING, which is a WONDERFUL thing because it makes you want to know more. This same curiosity will also help you during conversations with others because it will help you identify topics of conversations to talk about, or transition tools to use. I have already started to notice a radical change. I will continue to experiment with curiosity for social and other purposes and will write a future post indicating how it has been working out for me.
#2 PROJECT POSITIVITY
If after learning more about these contemporary subjects you are still feeling shy when talking to people, or approaching people and opening up conversations with them, practice my new way of socializing with people. BE POSITIVE. Make sure you project this positivity to others, bring the positive energy to them, UPLIFT others. This is something I recently starting implementing in my life and I learnt it thanks to Brendon Burchard. Basically, from now on, I will no longer go into conversations or social interactions thinking what I can gain from it, but how I can help others, how I can make people´s and stranger´ days. How can I make others laugh, or small talk with people not for own benefit but to spread the joy. To smile more to people for the only purpose of being a beacon of light to others. I now have a serving mentality. This ALONE takes off the pressure and the nerves from going into interactions with strangers because your mentality shifts. Even if you get rejected or a conversation does not go as expected, as long as you are leaving the other person better off, then you have been successful. Just make sure you are leaving a positive impression, and the universal expression to show the other person that you mean good, is SMILING. Make sure you smile, use positive body language and gestures, go into interactions with positivity and altruistic mentality and you will have better conversations and interactions altogether.
By being more approachable people will feel more inclined to start talking to you. You can then share your knowledge and point of view on those matters. Another basic technique for opening up conversations or having others open up to you, is to look for situational topics of conversation. This means looking to your immediate environment and notice something worth commenting about. For instance the weather, or if there is a construction near by you can talk about what is going on there (this might be better suited to open up conversations and then changing the subject, unless you can talk for a long time about construction sites). If there is a billboard near by promoting a movie you can talk about that. Also you can become a situational topic of conversation yourself by wearing something that opens up conversations. Maybe a funny t shirt, or a weird looking watch, or unique sunglasses, or a nice retro hat, etc. This attracts people into wanting to ask you about that.
Also…Be present and pay attention
I know I said I would only cover two skills on this post, but I also want to point out that skill number 3 (be present and pay attention) is also very important. Being socially present means to be there in that moment, to not get distracted with your phone or with any distractions. To be fully engaged in the present moment, ESPECIALLY if you are talking to someone. To be 100% there with them physically but also mentally. This will help you feel more connected to the conversation, more curious and also make conversing smoother. It refers to what I mentioned earlier about getting people to talk about themselves and things they care about even if you do not particularly care about it (and how this alone was not enough), and most importantly LISTENING. Show them you are a good listener and keep building up questions based on what they answer. Think of it as if they are revealing to you the plot of a new movie, and you are trying to scout out everything can about it.
Once again I strongly recommend you begin learning about important or interesting contemporary subjects, in the news, online or anywhere. You never know when something trivial you learned while browsing channels will give you green lights for a nice conversation that will help you accomplish whichever goal you have going into each conversations. This is why it is important to have intentions for social interactions. I will be implementing these 3 skills during the next 3 months to see how it goes for me, and I highly recommend my readers to use them as well. Remember, start knowing more stuff and become passionate about more stuff, project positivity and be present in the moment.