You Will Be Awkward.
You Will be Awkward.
“Hi I’m Bret. Where are you from?”
“Hi Bret – I’m Trey. I’m from New Orleans.”
“Nice to meet you Trey – I have never met someone from New Orleans. How did you fare in Hurricane Katrina?”
“My entire house was destroyed.”
That was six years ago. It was a casual Friday afternoon, and I was chatting with some older classmates at college; mostly guys that I had never met before. I was nervous and was trying to make an impression, to look ‘cool.’ Well I succeeded in making an impression, but it obviously wasn’t the type of impression I wanted. In hindsight, I could have probably asked him a dozen of things about New Orleans; nightlife, bars, history, surroundings, etc. Instead I focused on the worst possible discussion. I chose Hurricane Katrina.
Today I am much better at meeting new people. Though every once in a while I still mess up. I credit my modest improvement to 10 techniques I have learned and practiced over the years.
Here they are:
1. When talking with someone new always wait 1 to 2 seconds before responding. This gives the other person time to continue talking if they choose to and time for you to think of an appropriate response (not Hurricane Katrina).
2. Write openers down on a piece of paper and practice them. I realize this sounds creepy and weird, but it has helped me tremendously. “Hi I’m (insert name), where are you from?” is a quick way bore the person you just met. Easier said than done, but try to ask questions that they never heard before.
3. People love to talk about themselves so let them do it. Always ask questions about someone else and try to limit your use of ‘I.
4. Ask opened ended questions that don’t result in yes or no answers.
5. Don’t ask questions that result in one-word answers.
6. Stand up straight, keep your arms below your torso, and slow your speech. My friends can attest to this, but I usually speak too fast, slur my words, and wave my arms a lot. Talking to people shouldn’t be like conducting a band!
7. 80% of what we say is through our body language. Learn it. Here is a good book on the subject:
8. Actually listen. You have two ears and one mouth. While people are talking you shouldn’t be thinking about your next question. Your next question should be written from what they are saying.
9. Practice your exit. Too often I wait until the last possible moment to end a conversation usually resulting in an awkward goodbye. Try this technique – leave the conversation at its peak. If you want you can always exchange contact information and meet later.
10. Lastly, just relax. No matter how hard you try you just won’t click with some people. That’s okay, just talk to a lot of people and eventually you will find someone worth chatting to.
With all these techniques, I still screw up. In September I was at a NASCAR race tailgating with some friends, most of whom I had just met. One girl in particular had a rather interesting shirt on. It was a black sleeveless shirt decorated with American bald eagles riding motorcycles with flames encircling them. I was curious and decided to start a conversation. I asked her how she came about finding that shirt and the story behind it (Rule # 4). This led into a whole conversation about ironic T-shirts. We finally made our way to football and chatted about are respective colleges.
I broke rule #5 and asked her when she graduated. She responded “late” because she took a semester off. At this point I noticed a striking change in her body language, and my gut told me that this was a sensitive subject.
Still I charged ahead breaking Rule #1 and immediately asked “Oh why did you take a semester off?”
At that moment, I effectively killed the conversation. Her response was quick and uninformative “Oh I lived with my grandma.” I tried to recover with some bullshit about how graduating in the winter was right thing to do, but my last ditch effort failed miserably. 2 minutes later we parted ways.
Rule #10 – sometimes it just happens.