How do I learn to be a better talker?
May 31, 2010 4:53 PM   Subscribe

People tell me I'm a good listener, but that's only good for half a conversation. I want to learn how to be a good talker. Where do I begin?

My fiend sometimes asks me to talk to her when she's tired, and I find myself completely at a loss for words. When it comes to contributing to a conversation, I do just fine if there's the usual exchange of questions, but when I'm expected to start it off or talk about something at length, I often get completely lost. How do I work on this? (Caveat: I don't really like talking about politics or current events.)
posted by archagon to Human Relations (8 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Learn some stories. These can either be stories written by someone else about topics of interest to you, or they can be stories about things that have happened to you or someone you know in real life. If it helps, practice telling the stories aloud to yourself a few times before you have to tell them to someone else.

Also, if she just wants to hear the soothing sound of your voice, ask her whether she'd like you to read aloud to her. Being read aloud to as an adult is one of the awesomest things ever, and I think that we as a society have erred in relegating this activity mostly to childhood.
posted by decathecting at 5:09 PM on May 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think decathecting has great advice - come up with some anecdotes, some funny or weird things that you've gone through or noticed recently, and store them up for the next conversation.

And reading aloud! One of my favorite things in the world - being read to (or doing the reading on my end) with someone close to you can be truly wonderful when you need to recharge.
posted by Rain Man at 5:41 PM on May 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

A friend of mine once told me that she thought that her parents listened to the CBC so that they would have something to talk about. I'm always conscious of that when I listen to public radio and kind of keep a mental store of interesting things I learn there. The Radiolab podcast is a goldmine.
posted by carolr at 5:55 PM on May 31, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you're a good listener, you may have a store of other people's stories to draw on. Think of a couple that are interesting starter hooks and they may lead on to other stories. For instance, off the top of my head, I find my next-door neighbor who walks her five dogs all at once two or three times a day interesting. I might start there: "Have I told you about my next door neighbor and her five dogs?" Which might lead on to additional amusing dog stories, and then to this one funny story about the friend who owns the dog I'm talking about, and so on.
posted by not that girl at 6:48 PM on May 31, 2010

Remind yourself that a topic needn't be the most fascinating thing in the world in order to spur a conversation or story. I've noticed a lot of people getting into the "thirty days project" for June; perhaps record readings of some of your favorite stories from childhood, anecdotes, or autobiographical moments?
posted by wzcx at 1:48 PM on June 1, 2010

Does she literally expect you to carry on a almost-monologue-like speech without much input from her? That's a fairly tall order unless you're a stand-up comedian by trade. The idea of reading to her is a good one if that's what she really wants.

Assuming she wants a conversation and is willing to do at least some of the work, agreed that the news is a good place for conversation-starting, especially if you can find stuff that's of general interest but perhaps a bit more off the beaten path than GMA.

(hmmm, where you would find a stream of news like that?)

A more general answer to the question "how to be a good conversationalist" is - ask questions about things that the other party is interested in. Almost everyone's an expert in something.
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:41 PM on June 1, 2010

I do ask a lot of questions, but at some point, it makes me feel like a non-entity in the conversation.
posted by archagon at 1:34 PM on June 2, 2010

I struggle with this and mostly want to express empathy. It does make you feel like a non-entity after a while.

I think one thing is to have something to say and something to say about it, and some other things to relate it to. So with an experience, describe the experience, say how it made you feel or give some analysis of it, and then mention something else it makes you think of. Or mention a current event (sorry), give your opinion, and then refer to a similar event or theme. Maybe try reading the news and coming up with an opinion on each story so that next time there's a gap you'll have something to fill it.

I'm sorry to use current events and news as examples, but it's hard to think of examples without knowing what you like. "Current event" doesn't have to be things from the newspaper. It can be something that happened in a group you belong to, or a website, your family, or a hobby. Example: Somebody in your RPG did something dumb; a sequel to a computer game is being released soon; you saw a fat squirrel. Be conscious of the things that grab your attention and spend a little more time thinking about them, and those can become things to talk about when you have the floor.
posted by ramenopres at 3:49 PM on June 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

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