I used to be an awkward, shy nerd who fumbled all the time.
Really, I was.
Back in high school I was a total nerd. I only focused on studying for the first couple of years as I did extremely badly in a major leaving examination when I was 12.
My parents were so disappointed that I knew I had to buck up or I'd go down a potentially destructive path in life.
I literally did not go out at all for the first two years of high school. I mean, I had a lot of friends, but I did not socialize much and go out with them on weekends. I chose to stay home instead and play video games. It was the first Sony Playstation era. Games were cheap because bootlegged ones were on sale everywhere.
It was only in December 1999, the year I turned 14 that I wanted to change my life.
The following cheesy scenario is totally cheesy, but really took place.
I was looking in the mirror, in my parents’ toilet.
I was looking at my horrible unkempt hair which had no style whatsoever. I was also looking at my moustache which I did not shave for about a year because I didn’t care about appearance as appearance had nothing to do with studying.
For real, that was my logic back then.
I thought about my teenage track record: Zero girlfriends. Hardly any memories of going out with friends. Barely any movies watched in the cinemas. Didn't play sports. Teachers praised me for my hard work and that probably annoyed others in class.
Basically, I had no life.
I was a nerd. Only video games were my friends. Hell, even my dad got annoyed with me once, asking why I never got out of the house!
I decided there and then that I would make a change.
I wanted to go out and have fun more. I wanted to have a girlfriend. I want to learn how to talk to people without feeling awkward. I wanted a life.
I stared at the mirror. I said I was going to start a change. It was time for me to grow the fuck up.
And I did so by changing my hairstyle on the spot.
For the next few years I pushed myself to socialize, go out, talk to friends more and even tried to talk to girls.
So yes, I totally know how it feels to learn how to start talking to people and feeling like a loser at it. I cracked jokes which nobody laughed at. I forced myself to come up with dumb shit to talk about with a girl even.
Today, I feel totally fine with talking to people, be it stranger or friend. I am not some superb speaker, but it's not like the thought of talking to people would inject instant anxiety in me.
Here's my step-by-step guide which I hope will help!
Note: This isn’t a guide on how to talk to people with the goal of impressing them, getting them to buy something for you or totally win them over. I won’t talk about stuff like NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) or body language. This is a guide on working on your inner-self and on getting out of your comfort zone to being able to start talking to others with ease.
1) Just be polite
You aren’t sure of what to say to someone? Okay cool, just be polite then.
Have your, “Thank you”, “Please” and “I’m sorry, could you repeat that?” in order and you’re good.
By being polite you’ve set the foundation of being a nice person, which is something all humans on earth can relate to. You may not have created a powerful impact, but at least you’ve created a lasting impression that you’re not rude or offensive, which trust me, many people can’t seem to master even though this is basic etiquette.
You may not see it, but being polite sets you ahead of a lot of people.
2) Basic questions are okay
Get to know the person you’re talking to for the person they are. Start off with basic questions first:
What’s your name?
What do you work as?
Have you eaten?
How was your day?
Then, you flow with the basic questions:
“Oh you work at that place? What’s it like there?”
“Oh you go to that school? Do you know..."
Remember, basic is okay. That means to say, small talk is okay. You’re both human and just getting to know each other.
Yes, small talk may be a little trite and boring, but again, this isn’t a guide on how to win people over. This is learning how to talk to people without feeling awkward on a human level.
3) Don't try too hard to impress
Absolutely nobody likes someone who tries too hard.
When you try too hard, it shows. And people will think you’re weird.
Get this in your head: Trying too hard never works.
For example, you think you need to crack a joke to get people to like you. So what do you do? You rip a joke off from someone you heard it from.
However, that joke was created from a personal experience. You try to make it your own, when it obviously is not. There is hence a mismatch of your joke, your tone and your overall personality.
It WILL show. The punchline may be funny, but the joke wouldn’t be told right. Ultimately, it wouldn’t be funny at all.
This is what I learnt long ago when I was reading up on PUAs (Pick Up Artists) where I was learning how to approach girls.
Look at it this way: You learnt of an awesome pick-up line. It’s smooth and intelligent. However, deep down you’re still a shy little boy who worships the ground hot girls walk on.
An awesome pick-up line, told by a shy little boy
Do you see the mismatch? The pick-up line will most definitely lose its effect, hence becoming worthless.
Don’t be a mismatch between whatever you say and yourself within.
Remember, BASIC is OKAY! Your level of comfort with someone is up to you.
And yes, I really tried using some cheesy line on a girl. Since I was shy, I even only did it via online chat. It still came off stupid.
4) Just listen
Part of talking and having a conversation is also about listening.
It’s a two-way thing, where both parties are trying to get to know each other.
So listen with sincerity and don’t hog the conversation.
If you talk too much, you may come across as someone who is self-centered, which really doesn’t help you trying to learn how to talk to people.
Remember, you need to shut up once in a while.
5) Remember that you don't ever need to please everybody you meet
This kind of goes hand in hand with point (3): Don’t try too hard.
You don’t owe anyone anything.
If you feel that you’re already polite, that you ask non-invasive questions or maybe you even crack a really good joke or two, and yet the other party doesn’t seem to reciprocate and the tension feels awkward still…
… then screw them.
Politely take your leave and go talk to someone else.
I find that when a conversation dies off, people blame themselves and start asking what they did wrong, “Did I say something to offend them?” , “Do I have smelly breath?”, “Oh no I did it again!”
Why do you even blame yourself?
If you’re polite and just getting to know someone (with basic questions), it’s most likely not your fault!
You don’t need to please everyone you meet. If someone can’t vibe with you, then just change course and talk to other people. No biggie.
Bonus point (6): How to look them in the eye
I don’t really like talking to people and looking them in the eye straight. It makes me uncomfortable and it’s certainly not a habit of mine.
But this is a little technique I learnt back in my insurance-selling days.
Just look at the bridge of their nose. It’s a lot easier.
Or, when looking at their eye, just take note of the colour of their pupil.
Pretty soon you’re looking like you’re looking at them in the eye. Makes sense?
Bonus point (7): How to talk to large groups
Well I’m no expert speech giver, but I’ve had my fair share of telling a story to a group of friends, to much laughter.
The answer to talking to large groups is simply not try and let the opportunity present itself.
First, you be polite. People start to like you.
You don’t try too hard. You be yourself, ask basic questions and allow people to know you better; know that you’ve substance.
You listen to people, hence making them comfortable with you as they then know that YOU know THEM.
Let it all flow.
Pretty soon one day a friend would be like, “Hey, why don’t you tell that crazy story you told me about the other day? You know? That really funny one?”
It would be really easy then.
That’s it! That’s my basic guide to talking to people without feeling awkward.
It’s all basics man. Just have fun. There're like seven billion individuals on this planet and everyone has a story.