The real deal about how to have a great conversation on your first date (or in any other harrowing situation) is here. If you want to know how to blow her (or him) away with your wordsmithing skills even if you are painfully shy, and profoundly introverted, read on.
The “interesting conversation” suggestions you’ve been given elsewhere are laughable. Here, we’ll get downright serious about how to talk to people, not keyword-search robots.
The English language is full of odd phrases with inexplicable origins. It’s no wonder people can get anxious thinking about talking to someone for the first time. If you are physically attracted to someone, “making conversation” can feel more like making it rain – only a few people even really know how to do that – and they’re usually named after a Silicon Valley executive or a stripper who’s spent some time on a pole.
Converse to Connect
If you are neither Steve Jobs or Candy Chrystal, you need some real, actionable advice on how to start, and keep a conversation going. That’s because most human people, unlike technology geniuses, or Playboy bunnies actually need to converse to connect with others.
Scientists like Matthew Lieberman have even documented how our brains are hard-wired to seek connection, and one of the first ways we get to do this is by talking to one another.
Lieberman argues that in the West we like to imagine that we are immune to the ‘social’ needs of connection and communication – that we can just text one-word answers to questions or post funny memes on Facebook and call that a conversation – but we are so programmed to need one-on-one, meaningful dialogue that, regardless of our culture or gender, we’ll practically die to have it.
Even rats suffer when their social bonds are severed, it’s that important.
It’s a rite of passage to be able to have a great conversation with another person, especially of the opposite sex, and once you’ve mastered it, you can talk to just about anyone in ANY situation.
Things to Talk About
So – the importance of this communication established, let’s look at what you can talk about.
You don’t want to start a conversation back-assward. In the same way that you wouldn’t normally have dessert before starting your meal, you need to feed someone’s conversational appetite, before you gorge them on your fabulous gourmet “talking” skills.
Start with Small Talk
So that you don’t make your intended conversational partner full before the appetizers even come, you need to use a little small-talk. Perhaps, even the phrase “small-talk” conjures images of well-to-do elitists talking about nothing at meaningless parties at country clubs, but there’s a well-documented scientific reason we have incorporated small talk into our social contract of connection.
Small-talk isn’t busy-work for eventual communication, it is communication. Small talk accomplishes all these things when you use it correctly:
- Prepares people to go deeper, about more intimate topics.
- Indicates that you are interested. When you ask someone about the weather, they know you don’t really care about the weather, but it indicates that you are interested in talking to them, and hearing their opinion on a neutral, non-threatening topic.
- It establishes a common ground. When you say, “Some rain we’re having!?” this is an expression of universal or communal experience that you and your partner in conversation can both relate to.
- It establishes that you are a friendly, open person, willing to communicate.
Skip the Small Talk, Go Straight to Big Talk
There’s another technique you can employ if you want to be really bold – and that’s to skip the small talk completely. Kalina Silverman offers this advice after experiencing loneliness and an inability to connect with others during her first year away at college: be brave, and talk to people about what really matters.
Silverman actually made a documentary where she spoke to complete strangers and asked them some profound questions – probably holding a more significant conversation with many of them, than even their closest friends may have.
She was inspired to make the documentary after travelling and realizing she was more open to new people and new experiences when she was away from home, and ended up drinking wine and talking deep into the evening with two of her professors at the foot of some picturesque mountains in South America. She was shocked at how alive she felt during that evening, and lamented that she had to go back home, in fear that she was going to lose this peak experience – building empathy and true connection through strangers.
To see what happens when you ask people really profound questions, like, “what would you do today if you knew you were going to die tomorrow,” start at minute 9:18. You’d be surprised what people are willing to share if you just ask them.
Move on to Random or Interesting Topics
Another radio personality, Malavika Varadan, says she loves talking to people.
She speaks to billions of them every day, without even getting to look into their faces, since she is usually speaking into a microphone. Varadan says she has to make people feel like “she’s their best friend in 60 seconds,” and offers the following advice for starting up a conversation – all of which can be used even on a first date:
- FIRST WORDS ARE FLOOD GATES – This is great news for the shy and empathic among us. Varadan says that you can say just about anything, as long as your intent is to connect and be friendly. Something as simple as, “Hi,” or “How’s your day going?” can open the floodgates for conversation.
- FIND THE ME-TOO’S – Once you’ve said “hello,” find common ground. People naturally want to find what they have in common, so no matter how different you think you and your conversational partner are, you’re bound to have something that you can both relate to. It might be something as simple as talking about the city you live in, or the latest concert you saw, or the favorite tattoo style. If you met them at a bar, you can ask them if it’s their favorite place to hang out, or if they have another preference. You’ll find you are on the same “side” of something – political, ideological, world view, creative view, or even whether or not you both love seafood and hate the taste of beer when you seek common ground. Any topic at all where you can establish a “me-too” is a good place to start.
- PAY A UNIQUE COMPLIMENT – If you want to start a conversation in the absolutely best way possible, Varadan says you should offer someone a unique compliment. It needs to be authentic, and it needs to be original. For example, if you met a super model you wouldn’t tell her she was beautiful because that likely isn’t unique to her. She hears it all the time, over and over ad nauseum, but if you said to a super model, “you have the most expressive hands I’ve ever seen, do you work with them?” or “That book you are reading is a classic, you have great taste in writers.” She is likely to take notice, and the conversation will flow easily from there.
How to Talk to Guys and Girls Differently
Another important thing to note when you are headed into a conversation for the first time is that men and women typically approach communication differently.
This doesn’t mean there won’t be exceptions to the rule, but you can count on two distinct conversation styles dependent upon if you are speaking to a guy or a gal.
Men usually want a succinct answer to a question, as they see communication purely as a tool for solving problems. Women, on the other hand, want to talk to discover their own feelings, and explore the feelings of others.
Women use communication as a way to establish a bond of intimacy, or to strengthen a bond that already exists, whereas men see communication as a means to an end – usually to solve a dilemma, and in many cases, it’s making sure he’ll have a second date!
Men often wonder how women can talk so much, but that’s because they aren’t familiar with their style of communicating.
When men tell a story, for example, they’ve usually sorted all the details in their heads, and have a specific trajectory for their tale – a beginning, middle, and end, with a definite point.
Women will circle around many topics, perhaps dropping one off, and then picking it up again at a later time, and even tell multiple stories within one conversation because their aim is to connect with the people they are talking to, and to discover more about themselves in the process.
Keeping this in mind, you can talk to a man in a way that he prefers to be talked to – keeping your story direct and to the point, and when you speak with a woman – allow her to explore different topics and emotions, so that she feels more connected to you when the conversation has concluded.
What to Talk About with Friends
If you have a difficult time talking to friends due to shyness or introversion, one of the best things you can remember is that, “It’s not all about me.”
Your friends want to know what’s going on in your life, and what you’ve been up to, not because they are ready to pounce on a mistake you make, or so that they can judge you, but because they need to connect with you, and also want to participate in a balanced conversation where they learn about your life, while you also learn about theirs.
If you are afraid you’ll freeze up mid-convo, try the following techniques to get the conversation flowing again:
- Ask them how they are feeling about (a person, their jobs, their boyfriend or girlfriend, spouse, children, etc.) Just asking, “how’s it going,” is a great way to break the ice.
- Ask them what they are looking forward to doing over the weekend.
- If you are at work, instead of sending an email, walk over to someone’s desk and ask them the question you were going to send electronically. This offers another chance at connection and can deepen a relationship, even if you could have gotten the answer by passing notes on your computer.
What to Talk About Over the Phone
Before you have any phone conversation, remind yourself that any anxiety you may feel about speaking to someone else is coming from your beliefs about the situation, and is not real. Those voices in your head telling you that you can’t talk to someone are just the ego trying to keep you cut off, in your own little world.
Have a little positive self-talk before dialing those digits.
This includes calling a man or woman to schedule a date, or even to plan an outing with friends. As an introvert you are a naturally curious person. Think of something you really want to know about a person, and start off the conversation with that burning question. You’d be surprised how delighted people will feel that you have taken a specific interest in something about them. It could be something as simple as, “have you always lived in this city,” or “I love pizza, where’s the best place to grab one?” Asking someone else a question will also take the spotlight off of you, and shine it on them, making the conversation much easier to carry out.
Texts messages are a modern-day cop-out for true conversation. They should only be used to start a conversation – not to have an actual conversation.
Here’s a few reasons why texting sucks:
- If you send someone a “hey” you have to wait forever for them to respond, wondering the whole time whether they even want to talk to you. They might actually be dying to have a conversation with you, but they’re at the gym, or in school, or in a business meeting. Who knows? But it still makes you wonder and fret.
- In a real conversation, people are more likely to be honest. When you text someone, you have as much time as you want to craft a response, so you are likely to reveal less about true self. In a face-to-face conversation you can also pick up on body-language and other subtle cues which are absent in electronic communication.
- Emojis only say so much. Enough said.
- You get a read receipt from someone that they’ve seen your message, but then you wonder when you are supposed to text back – if they took two days to respond to you, does texting back in five minutes make you look desperate?
- Most importantly, there’s NO HUMAN CONTACT. Therefore, it isn’t real communication, because it doesn’t offer true connection.
Therefore, keep your texts to the point, and ask when you can talk either on the phone (better) or in person (best) soon.
Great Talk is Only 50 Percent
Great talkers have only half the skills needed for great conversation. The other half requires great listening. Celeste Headlee is a radio personality who has had literally thousands of conversations, and even she says that the best talks were those where she sometimes got to shut up and listen.
Here’s what is even more important for those among us who obsess about saying the right thing, though. A great study out of Harvard has revealed that talking about yourself actually activates the same pleasure centers in your brain as sex and cocaine. If you’re trying to impress a date, (or a business partner, even) you need to give them the chance to feel that pleasure. The only thing is, you need to set up a backdrop, almost like a stage set, that will make the topic of themselves relevant.
You wouldn’t expect an actor to successfully portray Shakespeare’s Hamlet while on an old set for Baywatch. Similarly, you wouldn’t expect your date, or the person you are trying to have a conversation with, to feel comfortable talking about themselves, if you have tediously erected a set for talking about yourself, or some other mundane topic.
Summing it Up
So – here are your take-away, actionable points to start having awesome conversations today – whether it’s on a first date, in a business meeting, with friends, or even with a complete stranger.
- People need to connect with conversation, so you are helping others fill that need when you talk to them.
- Connect with small talk.
- Skip the small talk and go to big talk.
- The topic isn’t as important as just establishing a connection – open the flood gates by saying, “hello.”
- Offer a sincere, original compliment.
- Find common ground.
- Keep the difference between male and female communication styles in mind.
- Never substitute texting for face-to-face communication.
- What you talk about is less important than how you make the other person feel.
- Just as vital as talking is listening.
Now get out there and make some new friends out of complete strangers, or polish up your conversational skills with existing ones. You’re ready to talk your way to a true connection, today.