Much like any other skill, we need to practice talking to be good at it.
You don’t need to sweat buckets over complex presentations or formal speeches to become a good talker. You just need to talk with people. Lots of people. Different people. I know some great presenters who are surprisingly poor at just talking with people because they rarely engage in informal chitchat with people they don’t know very well.
“But Lauren,” you cry, “you don’t understand! I’m terrified of just walking up and talking to some random stranger!”
Surprise: I understand. Oh, I understand very, very well. I used to get right freaked out any time I had to speak with someone I didn’t know. I used to find corners and posses to hide in and keep strictly to myself unless dragged into a conversation by someone else. Conference socials were pure hell – I knew I was supposed to be chatting and meeting new people, but I invariably retreated to anyone with whom I could beg passing acquaintance. If no one was available, I’d find a corner and clutch my complimentary booze, staring wide-eyed and other people around me. Pick up conversation with a complete unknown on the street? Inconceivable!
So when I say that the worst part of talking to strangers happens in the moments immediately before we do it, I know what I’m talking about. Really and truly, the worst part isn’t talking to someone you don’t know, it’s approaching them. And it’s all in our heads. Most people are friendly and interesting. It is hugely unlikely anyone will roast you or stare at you sideways for daring to exchange pleasantries with them. Actually, they’ll be grateful you took that risky first move.
The best part of talking to strangers is that you’ll quickly learn how many interesting people are out there. In the past week I’ve had the great fortune of having a get-to-know-you coffee with a driven businesswoman I met at a networking event (one where I chose not to hide behind my wine glass) who has started up more ventures than I can shake a stick at. I had a get-to-know-you lunch with an older fellow I met at a different event and learned just how small the world can be when you choose to meet new people. I’m making fast friends with a particularly fascinating medical student who is staying at our home while in town on a special study project. And today I learned about a 50-something year old woman’s upcoming 6 month solo trip around India as the two of us walked to a mutual destination. I held open a door for her, and that was enough to spark conversation. I never learned her name, but she was lively and interesting and brightened up my day.
And with each of these interactions, I get a little better at talking. You will, too. You’ll also learn that the world is packed full of interesting, friendly people who want you to talk with them.
How do you feel about striking up conversations with strangers? Have you made any memorable connections with people you met by chance? Leave a comment below and let’s talk!
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