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Conversation Skills for Introverts

Updated: Aug 1, 2022

For those who know me, I think it will be a surprise to learn that I’m actually an introvert who had to learn how to be more outgoing. Yes, I can now talk to anyone, anywhere, about just about anything, but there was a time when I would have rather died then talk to strangers. Today, being on a stage in front of 1,000 people is no big deal, but I found it terrifying at first. So, what changed? Let me make a long story a lot shorter—by the way, that's a clue to being a good conversationalist, don't do all the talking—about how I was forced out of my comfort zone. When I was 21, my brothers and I opened our first surf shop. I mostly handled the marketing and merchandising, but I also worked the floor and had to interact and engage with customers. Awkward. Over time I got better at it and became comfortable with being uncomfortable. As one store became two the Principal of a nearby school thought it would be a good idea to have me speak to the entire student body. I tried to say no . . . but she was relentless.This led to two things happening and changed my life.

It turned out when I had something important to say I wasn't as scared and I enjoyed being on a stage. (Talking to attendees afterward one on one, not so much.) To get better at speaking in public I joined my local Toastmasters club which was the second thing that changed the course of my career. Slowly I became less afraid to talk to strangers, speak in public, and as our business grew, talk to the media. There are many tips and techniques that helped me overcome my fears and awkwardness when speaking in public (or private, to someone I don't know) but here are the three important things I've learned along the way.

1. Know a Little Bit About a Lot of Things and Keep up on Current Events. There a really good reason to have a wide and narrow knowledge base. Now you can ask intelligent questions about things others are interested in. If you know you are going to be talking with someone you don't know, do a little research about them and find out what they are into and do a quick crash course on that subject.If it's a Zoom call or meeting, sometimes what a person has in the background gives clues to what their into. "I see you have a guitar behind you, what type of music do you play?" Maybe you hate sports, but if you know a little bit about your local team and the star players. "Wow, I can see you're a huge Packer's fan, how do think they'll do this season?" 2. Find Common Interests to Build Rapport. As corny as it sounds, it's okay to talk about the weather, it's something everyone is at least mildly interested in and are sharing in the moment—or on Zoom is a good question to open with. ("I hear you're having torrential rain where you are, how's that affecting you?") It's a good way to break the ice. Anything that is happening to you and the person you are talking to also qualifies as a good starting point. The point is to establish rapport, probe for things you have in common with the other person—food, work, school, entertainment, hometown, family—to find a connection. The important thing is to ask questions and listen intently to their answers and when you hear something you can relate to, feel free to add your thoughts.

3. Nobody Cares What You Have to Say, Unless . . . When someone dies we want to know how, and how old the person was. Why? Because we don't want whatever happened to the other person to happen to us, or we are wondering how many years we may have left to live. That may be a little cynical, but then truth is whatever we have to say will be better received if in some way it's relevant to the other person. (That's why the first two tips are talk about things that interest others and find things to talk about that you have in common.) To win people over make everything about them or at the very least make them think, laugh, learn, feel, or shine. They are thinking, "What does this have to do with me?" So, tell them.

I’d like to help others who are shy and introverted to become more comfortable in conversations, get up and talk in front of others, and be better at promoting themselves and their ideas. I’m leading a two-part class and I would love it if you would tell someone you know who would benefit from this topic about this series. (It’s very affordable and online.)

Check out the class:


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