How To Be More Talkative

Do you often run out of things to say? Does it make you feel awkward?

It doesn’t have to be like this. You can learn how to be more talkative and feel comfortable in social settings.

Read about the importance of speaking up, how to use multi-threading, and why you should record your interactions.

1. Have a Few Go-to Topics

The basic problem with “How to be more talkative” is that people run out of things to say. Suddenly, there will be this long, awkward silence.

To prevent that, have a few go-to topics that you can pull out if the conversation reaches a dead end.

These go-to topics should fulfill two requirements:

  1. They should be broad enough to appeal to a large segment of the population.
  2. They should be interesting to you, so you can converse about them with enthusiasm.

The first point is to make sure your topic is relatable. Talking about the game last night — a good option. Talking about the industrial applications of quantum computing — not a good option.

The second point is about emotions. If you are just bringing up a topic because there is an awkward silence, it won’t pull anyone in. But if you are clearly enthusiastic about it, people will want to partake in your energy.

For example, for me, one such topic is traveling. I travel most of the year as a digital nomad, so it is a big part of my life. Naturally, it is something I can talk about for hours.

But it is also something a large number of people can relate to. Almost everybody has gone on a trip at some point. In fact, most people are counting down the days until their next vacation. Hence, this topic is likely to hit home.

Another one of my go-to topics is TV shows, e.g., The Sopranos. I have watched this show multiple times, and think it is one of the best shows ever made. I love talking about it.

So do many other people. Or, they might say that The Sopranos are overrated and that The Wire is so much better. Boom, you have a discussion.

Create a little list of such go-topics, and you will never run out of things to say again.

Also come up with specific conversation starters, to smoothly transition over into the new topic. Here are a few examples:

  • “I’m traveling to Costa Rica in May. I am excited, I have never been. Do you have any travel plans?”
  • “Have you seen the last season of Better Call Saul yet? Great finale. What’s your favorite TV show?”
  • “I have to take my dog to the vet tomorrow, she has to get vaccinated. Do you have any pets?”
  • “I saw a video about the new iPhone, it looked awesome. Are you an iPhone or an Android person?”

2. Avoid One-Word Answers

Imagine you are having a conversation at a party.

You: “So, where are you from?”

The other person: “Columbus.”

You: “Oh, nice, I studied there. Have you lived there your whole life?”

The other person: “Yes.”

You: “I remember the Buckeyes vs. Michigan games. Those were wild!”

The other person: “Yeah.”

How long would you continue a conversation like this? Probably not for very long. You don’t want to keep talking to someone who is giving you nothing.

People who struggle with being more talkative often show this behavior without realizing it. They will keep giving one-word answers and then feel hurt when people turn away from them.

Elaborate on your answers. As a rule of thumb, add an extra piece of information to every answer you give.

Here is the above conversation again.

You: “So, where are you from?”

The other person: “I am from Columbus, from a suburb in the North-West, Dublin.”

You: “Oh, nice, I studied there. Have you lived there your whole life?”

The other person: “Yes, most of my life. But I went abroad for a year during college.”

You: “I remember the big Buckeyes vs. Michigan games. Those were wild!”

The other person: “It’s mayhem, especially the tailgate parties.”

At every turn, you are giving the other person something extra. This will give the other person the chance to go off on tangents. It will also make them feel like that their questions are well received. They will enjoy the interaction more and will want to stay with it longer.

3. Ask Open-Ended Questions

You should avoid asking yes/no questions, like, “Is this your first time in New York?” This way, you are training the other person to be non-responsive.

Instead, ask open-ended questions, like, “What do you like best about New York? What do you like worst?”

These questions elicit a much lengthier response. With some people, it might be difficult to shut them up again. Either way, they will perceive you as someone easy to talk to (even though they are doing most of the talking).

4. Use the Question-Statement-Question Structure

Questions are an important tool in your toolbox, but you don’t want to overdo them. If you keep asking rapid-fire ask questions, the other person will quickly become annoyed. It feels too much like being interrogated.

To prevent this, adopt a question-statement-question structure. Whenever you ask a question and the other person responds, you must make a statement of your own first before you can ask the next question.

Here is an example:

You: “So, I hear you are traveling to South-East Asia soon. What’s your itinerary?” [question 1]

The other person: “I’ll fly to Vietnam first. I am very excited, I have never been.”

You: “I have a friend who visited last year. He said the people were very friendly and the food was exceptional. [statement 1] What cities do you plan to visit? [question 2]

The other person: “I’ll visit Hanoi first, and then go to Hoi An next blah blah …”

The thing is — the less familiar we are with somebody, the more questions we ask. So, we equate questions with social distance.

In contrast, observe how friends communicate with each other. They will ask each other relatively few questions but will make lots of statements. We associate this communication structure with familiarity and trust.

5. Use Cold Reads

A great way to keep a conversation going without asking too many questions is to use cold reads. Cold reads are when you make a guess about someone based on their appearance and the vibe they give off.

Here are a few examples:

  • “You seem like a very calm, composed person. If I had to guess, I would say you are a nurse or a doctor, someone who must keep it together under pressure.”
  • “You have a bit of an intellectual air about you. If I had to guess, I would say you are a writer or a journalist.”
  • “I get a feeling you are not from New Mexico. If I had to guess, I would say the New England area.”
  • “I couldn’t help but notice your cauliflower ears. If I had to guess, I would say you are an MMA fighter.”

The reason why we respond well to such assumptions is vanity. We are highly interested in learning how we are perceived by others.

Also, when you make these observations, make sure to add some sugar. Observe positive or interesting traits about them, something that strokes their ego. Which brings me to my next point.

6. Cater to Their Vanity

Most people, when they want to learn how to be more talkative, think they should never stop chattering. But ultimately, the other person doesn’t care how much or how little you talk. They are just concerned with getting their emotional needs met.

A few examples:

A braggart, always talking about their accomplishments, is happiest when you listen, nod, and validate them.

A wallflower is happiest when you let them feel that they are interesting and that people should be paying more attention to them.

A joker will be happiest if you laugh at their drolleries and let them know how they are the delight of the party.

It comes down to this — everybody’s favorite topic is themselves. And the better you cater to this self-obsession, the more you will be valued as a great conversationalist.

It won’t matter how many or how few words you say. In fact, you might say very little and they might constantly be talking. But in their minds, you still seemed talkative because you said the right things. You validated them at key points in the conversation.

7. Use Multi-Threading

A beginner conversationalist will cling to one thread. For example, they might start talking about last night’s game and then milk that thread until it’s dead. Only then do they switch to another topic.

The expert conversationalist will use multi-threading. They will start with topic A, but then midway switch to topic B, then come back to topic A shortly, then introduce topic C.

Multi-threading keeps the conversation fresh. From the other person’s point of view, talking to you becomes an exciting adventure. They never know what new, unexpected turn the conversation might take at any moment. 

8. Use Hooks

Conversational hooks are when you remember something from much earlier in the conversation and build on that.

Let’s say you are in a conversation with a new acquaintance, and they start telling you about their beloved family dog Brutus, who is currently suffering from an eye infection. Then the conversation moves on to work stuff, but about twenty minutes in, you remark, “I just thought of this great vet that my sister knows. She’s been going there for years. Maybe I’ll get you her number for Brutus?”

This signals to the other person that you are really paying attention. You are pondering what they told you, even when the conversation has officially moved on. On top of that, you remembered Brutus’ name.

Conversational hooks will buy you a lot of goodwill in interactions. You will be seen as somebody who cares.

9. Improve Your Body Language

“How to be more talkative,” is not just about what you say to others. Non-verbal communication is arguably even more important.

If you display closed-off body language or can’t keep eye contact, it won’t matter how witty you are. People will get turned off by you before you even get to demonstrate this quality.

Here are a few body language pointers:

Stand as upright as possible. Unround your upper back, pull your shoulders back, and slightly stick your chest out. Also, make it a habit to always check your posture when you walk by a reflective surface like a window or a car. Keep doing this, and your body will eventually accept this posture as its new default.

Keep eye contact. At the beginning of an interaction, look at the other person and pick one eye — that’s the one you will keep looking at for the rest of the conversation. No shifting between eyes, no glancing away. A little trick — if you need a break from looking at somebody’s eyes, close your own eyes while laughing. This is perfectly acceptable and also makes you appear more animated.

If you are prone to nervous gestures with your hands, touch your thumb and your middle finger together. This will occupy your hands, so you don’t start fidgeting. At the same time, it is subtle enough for the other person not to notice.

When it comes to facial expressions, make a point to mirror their emotions back to them. So, if they are talking about a sad event, look concerned. If they are smiling, smile with them.

Practice your body language in front of a mirror. For ten minutes every day, have an imaginary interaction. For example, picture yourself talking to your boss about the new project. Have this imaginary interaction out loud.

The whole time, check how your body language matches what you are saying. If you notice any discrepancies, stop and start that particular gambit over. Keep refining until you come across confident, yet relaxed.

My final tip — record yourself having real interactions, then analyze these recordings. Sales calls via Zoom are great for that. You can also ask your colleagues to record live meetings for reference. When you sit down to analyze your recordings, look for slip-ups in terms of body language. When you find one, stop the recording, and reenact the scene in front of a mirror until you get it right. Then continue your analysis.

10. Speak Up

Some people struggle with speaking up. But if others cannot hear you, they will turn away from you. Many introverts take this as a grave insult. As a result, they will grow even quieter.

Here is how to wrap your head around this. Imagine you were watching a new season of your favorite TV show. But for some reason, the producer had decided to cut the audio. Quickly, you would become annoyed with the show. “How can they be so inconsiderate of their audience?” Guess what — this is exactly how people feel around you.

So, stop being such a sensitive plant. Learn to speak up. A great way to do so is the “speak to the wall” exercise.

Face a wall, with your nose almost touching the wall. Now say a few sentences, e.g., “Hey, how are you? Great weather today. I think I am going to go for a hike later.”

Now, take a step back. Repeat the same couple of sentences, but aim at the wall. You want the sound wave to hit where the wall surface starts.

Now take another step back. Repeat. Then another step. Repeat. Keep going until you are 10 steps away from the wall. 

Do this exercise every day for a couple of weeks. It will teach you how to project. If you can “hit” a wall from 10 steps away, you will be more than able to make yourself heard in a regular conversation.

11. Don’t Worry So Much

People who want to learn how to be more talkative, often worry too much. They are irrationally afraid to say something silly.

For example, you might be at a party and someone starts talking to you. Immediately, your brain goes into high gear. “Was my response appropriate? Should I have explained myself better? Did I overshare?”

Understand — it is not just you. Everybody else is worrying about how they come across, too. In all likelihood, they won’t even notice if you say something slightly off.

12. Show Vulnerability

You don’t need to put on a show how great you are. Rather, talk about your shortcomings. Honesty is disarming. If you messed up in a relationship or failed with a business, people will be interested in hearing about it. It’s real. It’s juicy.

13. Match Their Energy

You want to match your energy level to the people around you.

If everybody is very high energy, and you are being a bit of a bore, you are probably not going to connect well. Vice versa, if everybody is acting very calm, and you are constantly high-fiving everybody, you are also out of sync.

As a rule of thumb, match the other person’s energy level and add a little bit extra. Your positive mood will elate them. People appreciate that and will want to talk to you again in the future.

14. Develop a Learner’s Mindset

Most people will read an article like this one, think to themselves, “Oh, I should try that,” and then forget about it two minutes later.

Understand — becoming a great conversationalist is a skill set. You need to practice it like any other skill set.

If you wanted to learn how to play the piano, you wouldn’t watch a video on YouTube and think, “Oh, I’ll try this next time I see a piano around. That should suffice.” You would get books. You would find a teacher. But most importantly, you would block out time every day to practice.

If you want to become a great communicator, you must do the same thing. Every day, start at least one conversation with a stranger. Focus on one of the techniques that we talked about in this article and try to apply it. Once you have mastered it, move on to the next technique.

15. Record Yourself

To get the most out of your practice sessions, you must establish a feedback loop. You must be able to revisit what you said, understand your mistakes, and try out alternatives. The best way to do so is to record yourself.

For example, at work, ask your colleagues if it’s okay to record your meetings. Likewise, you could record sales calls with potential clients, your call with a family member, or your chat with a friend. You could even record interactions with strangers on your smartphone. Just let your headphones hang out of your shirt; the built-in microphone will pick up the sound.

Then analyze your recordings in writing. Listen to 30 seconds of audio, then stop the tape. Ask yourself:

  • Did I sound at ease? Or did I come across as nervous?
  • Did I closely listen to the other person? Did I work with what they gave me?
  • Did I provide interesting information?
  • Did I cater to their ego?
  • Did I ask open-ended questions?
  • Did I use a question-statement-question structure?
  • Did I use hooks, multi-threading, and cold reads?

If you did these things, pat yourself on the shoulder. If not, come up with an alternative, better response. By forcing yourself to think of these alternatives and writing them down, you will condition your mind to access these new pathways when you find yourself in a similar conversation next time.

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