How do i become an interesting person to speak to?
December 15, 2008 12:20 PM   Subscribe

How do i become an interesting person to speak to?

Some people are born with this ability, but what is it that makes out an interesting conversation partner?
I have enough interesting things happening in my life, i just dont know how to convey them effectively to other people.

I'm not sure what other details i should add to this post, but feel free to ask if i left something important out!
posted by freddymetz to Human Relations (32 answers total) 56 users marked this as a favorite
I have enough interesting things happening in my life, i just dont know how to convey them effectively to other people.
I think that this sentence is very telling. I'm certainly bad at remembering this at times, but the purpose of conversations is not to try to convey how interesting you are by relating stories of all the interesting things you've done. The people that are considered great conversation partners are the ones who listen well and take the time to find out things about the person they're talking to.
posted by peacheater at 12:24 PM on December 15, 2008

I have enough interesting things happening in my life, i just dont know how to convey them effectively to other people.

Less conveying, more appreciative listening to what others are conveying. It's the number one trick to people finding you interesting -- making them feel like they're interesting.
posted by hermitosis at 12:25 PM on December 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

How do i become an interesting person to speak to?

Stop wanting to be interesting.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:31 PM on December 15, 2008

What peacheater and hermitosis said, plus read at least one newspaper daily and the occasional book.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 12:32 PM on December 15, 2008

Do some things for the heck of it just for the good story. Listen to and ask questions of others more than you talk about yourself.
posted by universal_qlc at 12:36 PM on December 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Making eye contact and genuinely listening to what the other person is saying will make people value you as a conversational partner. Listening properly is 50-60% of the battle.

Improving your memory and widening your reference pools is also important to stop you feeling stumped or drifting into silence. Picking up on cues from the other person's conversation is half the battle. You want a good mental indexing system so that you can do this at speed.

Finally, make sure you're interacting with a wide variety of people. This will give you an opportunity to retell your best stories, tweaking and embroidering them with with each iteration as you see what works and what doesn't. If I were to tell you about my weekend I could probably make it medium interesting at best, whereas stories from college or my childhood have been honed and refined over time until they are composed of pure win. Basically, it's all about practicing.
posted by the latin mouse at 12:37 PM on December 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

yeah i mean obviously some people are very interesting in a general kind of way and some people are very comfortable meeting new people.
But in general, for most people, there's not really such thing as "an interesting person to speak to". Rather, there's people that some people find interesting to speak to. To be that person, you have to find the people that would find you interesting (ie the right crowd), then you have to actually be yourself.
I think trying to be someone different, even if it just means reading the paper, solely for the goal of being interesting, will come off as fake. But looking for --and spending time with-- the right crowd, the people that will find you interesting, is actually what you should work on.
posted by alkupe at 12:37 PM on December 15, 2008

What peacheater and Ironmouth said.

The key is curiousity, in life and the conversation. Assuming from your comments that you have the first under control, don't ignore the crucial second. If you are your primary concern in a conversation, you are going to be boring. Remember those people from history class discussions who obviously treated other people's comments simply as intervals in which to formulate their next point? Don't be them.
posted by regicide is good for you at 12:44 PM on December 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

people love to talk about themselves. ask them questions, the more open ended the better. don't say anything about yourself unless they ask, and when they do ask, make it brief and then turn the topic back to them again. it might sound counterintuitive, but what most people find interesting is the idea that someone else is interested in them.
posted by groovinkim at 12:46 PM on December 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, and apply what you learn, which will be pretty much what peacheater already suggested.
posted by COD at 12:53 PM on December 15, 2008

Listen more than you speak. Pay attention. Engage people genuinely without being overly concerned with your response. Keep your stories funny and as short as possible.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:19 PM on December 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

To add on to "listen to what other have to say", develop a wide base of general knowledge so that you can actually have a conversation with someone else about things that they are interested in. Or at least know the right questions to ask.

The biggest conversation killer happens when someone raises a subject and your response is, "Yeah, I don't know anything/follow/listen to/read about that."
posted by backseatpilot at 1:23 PM on December 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Some people are born with this ability, but what is it that makes out an interesting conversation partner?

I've asked a similar question a couple of years ago, not here but another website. I was given the advice to ask people questions about themselves and show interest in their life. It was ineffective, for me, I don't know if it will help you or not. At best I got back short and curt answers or something like "I'd rather not say", or worst "Mind your business" or "That was a dumb question". And my questions weren't invasive, they were questions like "How was your weekend? What did you do? Where did you go?" I think people are so private these days, it is hard to get them to talk. I actually have better luck talking about myself, depending on the people.

Yes, please give more info and context, I'm somewhat of a boring person, therefore I cannot help you that much. However, I have a super charismatic and interesting friend of mine. I can give you some details on why she is so awesome, if I know which direction to go.
posted by sixcolors at 1:29 PM on December 15, 2008

I try to base my life experience stories based off what other people say. For instance, I was just talking to a coworker who dated some guy from South Carolina, and I was all, "Oh yea, I'm from GA and my friends went to USC," which left her an opening to talk some more. It's not necessarily about being interesting yourself- half the battle is having some common ground to convey thoughts relevant to the other person.

And I swear I wrote this before I read the_latin_mouse's second post...
posted by jmd82 at 1:42 PM on December 15, 2008

Follow the rules outlined in How to be a better improviser. Same logic applies — you want to keep the conversation rolling in an interesting and engaging way.
posted by Araucaria at 1:48 PM on December 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

Work on your delivery. You might have the most interesting hobbies/job/life/friends/whatever, but if you tell me about them in a monotone using boring words in run-on sentences without any sense of what makes them interesting, I will fall off my chair from boredom.

I know one excruciatingly boring person who really has interesting things to say, but only if you can wade through all the boring details first. I don't need to know every single detail - give me the gist of it, the payoff, the interesting part. I don't need to know that on your way to meet the Dalai Lama you stopped at the grocery store and couldn't find your usual toothpaste so you had to get a different brand and then someone cut you off and then you couldn't find a parking space. By now I don't care about the D.L., I just want to get out of this conversation.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 2:00 PM on December 15, 2008 [4 favorites]

I find the most interesting people to talk to are the people who spend a lot of time doing stuff, and not much time talking.

Please note that I talk a lot.

But you nailed it by the wording of your title. You want people to speak to you, rather than to listen to you. Then, as others have said, they will find you fascinating.
posted by bilabial at 2:33 PM on December 15, 2008

Interesting people are good conversationalists because they're well-rounded and knowledgeable enough to ask the right questions. Questions are good, but not enough in themselves.

This conversation is boring and the person has had it a thousand times:
X: I am studying international development in school. I want to work in Africa and help people.
Y: Oh... so, uh, teaching or what?

This conversation is more interesting:
X: I am studying international development in school. I want to work in Africa.
Y: Oh, okay. I heard a speech by the founder of Carolina for Kibera the other day. He was great, do you know about CFK?
X: Yes/No. [maybe they'll go on from here, maybe not.]
Y: He talked about how his organization decided to ask individuals to use their own abilities to solve their community's problems. Kids could play on their soccer team only after participating in a trash clean up, that sort of thing. Do you think that works more than just giving out money?

Something like that. Try to think up questions that the other person will be interested in answering - things you want to know the answer to.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:03 PM on December 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'll note mine looks wordier than some people might advise. While you want the focus to be on the other person, it's no fun for that person to get these constant questions. It's not an interview, keep a natural flow.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 3:07 PM on December 15, 2008

Learn how to convert embarrassing or awful experiences into really funny stories. Which requires an ability to laugh at yourself, which requires confidence and self-awareness.
posted by np312 at 3:11 PM on December 15, 2008

Questions are the key to being a good conversationalist, as many others have mentioned. I try to remember the acronym F.O.R. - Family, Occupation, Recreation. People like to talk about these three things as they apply to themselves, and you can always ask follow-up questions if something is interesting to you when they bring it up. The only thing people like more than talking about stuff that's important to them is teaching someone else about them who's genuinely interested in the same stuff. Just take an interest in people.
posted by jasondbarr at 3:26 PM on December 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

"When I was with Gladstone, I thought he was the most fascinating man in the world. When I was with Disraeli, I thought I was the most fascinating woman in the world. (A young woman who was escorted on different occasions by the two great 19th-century British Prime Ministers)".

That pretty much sums it up.
posted by jasondigitized at 3:29 PM on December 15, 2008 [3 favorites]

Well, seeing as it hasn't even been said yet... being a good listener makes you more interesting. Oh, wait... that was already said? I wasn't paying attention.

In one of David Niven's autobiographies (I can't remember which of the two, but they are both worth reading anyway), he talks about getting acting advice from Charlie Chaplin. Chaplin's advice was that when another actor is saying their lines (or, I guess mouthing their lines...) you need to act like your listening. This makes you more interesting to the audience. I think that is key, it's not that you are not listening, of course you are, but if they believe that you are engaged and interested by them they will reciprocate and become more engaged in you. It's not about pretending that you are listening, just sending a few signals so they can confirm that you are.

Right, that's out of the way. I'm curious about what other details you haven't added? And, more curious about why you didn't add them. Most askme posts like this are much much longer than yours. Yours was very short. Did you just not have anything more to add? Did you write a much longer question and then edit it down to the main point? Did you self censor for some reason? I know the answers to all of those could be 'no', but I'm just curious.
posted by Elmore at 4:09 PM on December 15, 2008

You can't just ask other people questions. You need to ask them questions and respond appropriately to how they answer. Don't keep pestering someone if they are not happy with the line of questioning. Be sure to volunteer a little bit of personal info yourself, so that the other person feels like this is a sharing session and not an interrogation.

Similarly when you're telling a story, be aware of your audience's interest level, and have an exit from the story early if it isn't working. Err on the side of being brief (unless you are exceptionally shy).
posted by nat at 7:16 PM on December 15, 2008

My husband is a marvel at starting up and maintaining conversations with perfect strangers. This is because we live in an area with people from a lot of different countries, and he avidly follows world politics. The first time he ever really blew me away was when we were vacationing in Wales and he struck up an hour-long chat with a museum docent about what was going on in Parliament. When he finds out what country someone is from, he always knows something that's happened there in the last couple of months and can ask them about it.

If they're from the states he'll usually ask about their job and know something about that industry. For example, the other day we met the girlfriend of my friend and she mentioned Paul Wolfowitz in relation to her job and he immediately turned and said "Wow, do you work for the World Bank?" Cue conversation. So, you know, being a good listener helps, but it also helps to know a little bit about everything. It keeps things moving along when you run out of inane questions.

In other words, to become a good conversationalist, subscribe to the Economist and read it every week. Then apply what you learn to keeping conversations alive.
posted by crinklebat at 9:10 PM on December 15, 2008 [4 favorites]

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. You can read this book in one sitting. Basically, he teaches you how to listen. When you know how to keep a person talking about himself, he will think you're the most amazing person ever, and won't know why.

Also: pay attention to grooming and dress well.
posted by neuron at 9:21 PM on December 15, 2008

Speak to me about my interests.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:37 PM on December 15, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great responses!

A few details i said i might add:
I dont like talking per se, i can be happy in silent company with someone but i have an inkling that female friends and my girlfriend are starting to get bored with that.
Lately my girlfriend (who lives pretty far away so we have to use the phone a lot) has stayed silent, waiting for me to say something, but when im exposed like that im often lost for words.
I used to be pretty insecure so it may be a remnant of that.

I know about the listen more than talk trick, but most of the listening techniques dont work over the phone, which is my main problem now.

OH, the reason why my original post is so short is because i naturally summarise EVERYTHING in my brain - i leave out everything that is obvious (to me) and when im telling a story i probably cut it shorter than it should be, or i reveal directly what interesting things have happened without building up suspense (e.g. "i met the dalai lama at mcdonalds today, he ordered a big mac") which basically leaves nothing for my conversation to ask i suspect.
What do you make of this little self analysis?
posted by freddymetz at 10:55 PM on December 15, 2008

What is missing is delight and enthusiasm on small stuff. If the experience made you feel something, try to relive that emotion when telling about it, if it's positive you may even exaggerate a bit. That is the function of some of the 'so how, was your day?' -questions, they're chances to relive (the positive) and handle (the negative) emotions that the day brought.

"Today I saw a bunny!" is a perfectly interesting starter.
posted by Free word order! at 2:21 AM on December 16, 2008

Everyone gave good suggestions. I think another thing you can do is to try and find the humor in the small stuff as well. Do you know what your girlfriend laughs about, or what you two laugh together about? Build on that. I remember having a female friend that I used to talk to on the phone all the time. There were times when I simply couldn't find anything of substance to talk about so I just started bringing up random stuff to lighten up dull moments in our conversation.

It's similar to knowing the person's traits, hobbies, and then finding some way to relate to it or talk about. As others mentioned, people do like talking about themselves.
posted by Myles at 9:49 AM on December 16, 2008

It's not just what you talk about or how much you listen, but it's also about the WAY you speak that gives you your personality, little silly metaphors and similes that you use.


If someone says: "Oh no, I got spaghetti sauce on my pants" I'll think, "oh man, that sucks"
If someone says: "Oh no! spaghetti pants!" I'll laugh and then think "oh man, that sucks"

If someone says: "I'm almost at your place, can you come outside in 5 mins?" vs
someone saying: "I'm almost there, it'd be pretty punk rock if you were just outside in 5 mins"
First saying is just "Ok, great" and second one is "whoa that person is cool"

It's little things like that that give you personality as you talk. I know a girl who goes on and on and on about salads and makes me want to shoot myself from boredom, and know someone who can tell me her salad-for-lunch story and I'd be laughing about it an hour later when something reminds me of her story.
posted by KateHasQuestions at 11:46 AM on December 16, 2008 [3 favorites]

Ok, I'm going to assume that 'asking questions and letting the other person carry the conversation' is not the problem, because that's not the question you've asked.

And dear god, someone who can't contribute at all, and just leaves it to you - yeah, they might be able to pull it off for awhile, but then it gets BORING. Dear god, it's like talking to a mirror! I can talk to myself whenever I want.

Actually - the question thing is probably still a worthy point. It's often quite 'comfortable' to have the other person talk. You like it. It's soothing.
That's not enough. It becomes good, when you you really LIKE and are interested in the other persons. What they say is fascinating! You want to know more about their interesting life and experiences!
Furthermore to this, you start to want to share things with them - not so you can talk, but because you think they'll find it interesting!

Interesting things that have happened, fascinating facts, stories, etc - they're gifts you are bringing them. You share things about yourself, because it makes it easier for them to share as well - equal trade.

Being able to tell anecdotes? Specifically? That's a skill, a particular type of story-crafting. Not necessary to conversation, but personally, I really enjoy them!
Maybe you won't be a natural, but everyone gets better with practice and experience. You listen to the way people who tell them well, and emulate a touch (and ask yourself, would someone else tell a story about this?). You tell, to different audiences, things that other people have found interesting - smiled, asked questions about, and let go of the 'boring' ones (conversational killers are long, boring anecdotes that people repeatedly tell, even though you've never seen anyone be anything other than bored senseless by them). You play up the bits that people asked questions about, etc.
posted by Elysum at 12:32 AM on December 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

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