I recently read the conversation book written by Larry King. I wanted to share the lessons found in the ravings of this old TV host. Honestly, it’s a bit outdated (1994!) on certain subjects, certainly on the references. But if you dust it off, look a bit beyond the whining of an old white man, there is lot of useful knowledge in this little book.
King knows what he is talking about. With his experience and a touch of vanity, he explains what being a good talker is all about. I only focus on the first part of the book – since that is relevant – summarizing the important and significant points. Hope it helps you to get better at socializing :).
To be successful is to talk well. Well talking people are often more successful. But somehow a lot of people fear to talk to strangers and authority figures. Fearing to say the wrong thing. Or the right thing in the wrong way.
Always know you can talk to anybody if you have the right attitude!
We take a look at the following subjects:
1. Talk 101 - The basics of successful conversation
2. Breaking the ice - How to talk to strangers
3. Social Talk
4. Eight things the best talkers have in common
5. Trendy talk and political correctness
1. Talk 101 - The basics of successful conversation
The more you talk – the better you get at it. But to effectively practice, understand the fundamentals first.
Be honest. To yourself and share that with people. Share your experience of how you feel. Be honest and upfront (about anxiety or fear). This will take much of the fear away and clear the air. As you make people part of your experience, they’ll appreciate and respect it.
1.2 The right attitude
Develop and cultivate the will to talk, even when it feels uncomfortable (at first). Only by doing this will you learn and master conversations. So:
Keep on talking with people
Improve your ability to talk by working hard at it
Keep on practicing to talk. You can even do this on your own. Talk to yourself in your car, or at home. Practicing in front of a mirror is good for eye contact practice as well. Or talk to your pet.
1.3 Interest in the other person
is essential. Look people in the eye, lean forward and ask questions about themselves.
“You cannot talk to people successfully if they think you are not interested in what they have to say or you have no respect for them.”
Know that you are ignorant on many subjects and everyone has certain knowledge and passions they want to share. Talk to people about that.
1.4 Openness about yourself
Act as you expect others to act. Be as open and honest with your conversation partner’s as you want them to be with you. This doesn’t mean just talking about yourself and disclosing personal secrets. Be willing to reveal the kind of information that you’d ask of someone else.
You can be emotional if it’s an emotional moment. But don’t be sentimental when it’s not the moment. Don’t try to fake it – people know.
If you have a ‘flaw’, own it. Get it out in the open. For example: if you stutter, tell people you stutter, you just take longer to say something. As it is out in the open, you and others don’t have to pretend nothing is wrong.
People don’t really care, and there is no pretense.
2. Breaking the Ice - how to talk to strangers
2.1 Overcoming yours and their shyness
One of the first things to accomplish is making others feel at ease. Most of us are naturally shy and are a bit nervous when talking to strangers.
To get people on comfortable ground. Ask them about themselves.
“Talk to people about themselves and they will listen for hours.”
How about your own shyness. Just remember – we are all only humans. When someone looks cooler/more popular or successful doesn’t mean they are very different than us. Keep your cool. Most people come from simple backgrounds, like you and me. There is no need to feel inferior or intimidated,
Know that the person in front of you is probably just as shy.
Sometimes you meet someone who is a lot shyer. Ask a few easy and nice questions. So they overcome their fear. Get them caught up by the moment and used to the sound of their voice.
The subjects that you can use to open a conversation are infinite. But it is okay to start simple, like talking about the weather. It is neutral and affects everybody.
Good go-to subjects are someone’s kids or pets, people love to talk about them. Find out if they have any. The things most close to a person, make them open up the most. It’s easy way to start.
If you are at someone’s place, try using furnishing, pictures or mementos to start a conversation.
2.3 Avoid Yes no Questions
Closed questions take the flow out of a conversation.
You can ask about the same subject with more substantive terms. People will answer them in full sentences. This will generate lengthier answers, thus better conversation.
2.4 First rule of conversation: Listen
[why the first rule is listed at page 41 of the book is my guess as well] Learn by listening. If you don’t listen well to people, how do you expect them to listen to you?
To be a good talker, you must be a good listener. It’s more than just being interested. By focused listening you can formulate better responses. Especially good follow up questions.
You can make notes ahead of a conversation, to prepare the general gist of your questions. But as you listen, respond to unexpected answers with unexpected questions. Go with the flow to interesting unknown territory.
So don’t go through a list of questions – but respond to what is said. If people tell you how they feel, listen to their answer.
To be interesting – be interested! Ask questions that someone enjoys answering. Encourage them to talk about themselves and their accomplishments.
Remember that people are 1000x times more interested in themselves, than what happens in the world.
2.5 Body language
is a second language you speak. When it comes natural, it works great. When you fake it, it feels unnatural and contrived.
Find your natural flow with body talk. Otherwise, you achieve the opposite you want.
2.6 Eye contact
It is a must to make.
Maintain good eye contact – at beginning and end. But also throughout listening and talking. It is essential to a successful conversation. Lean into people, to emphasize your focus on them, and look them in the eyes.
If you are really listening, it is easy to look people in the eyes.
Add some nonverbal feedback, like nodding or shaking your head in (dis)agreement.
But don’t continuously stare in someone’s eyes. Look away a bit when talking. But not in a distracted way, like over their shoulder. That feels like you are looking for something more interesting.
If you worry about how well you are talking, your body language will take care of itself.
2.7 Where have all the taboos gone?
There are few taboos left nowadays but avoid some topics in friendly conversation. Mostly the very personal or highly politicized issues.
Think about how intimately you know the people you are talking to. Then decide whether you can talk about taboos. But in general use discretion.
2.8 Stay informed
To be a good talker in modern culture, stay informed. You should be ready to talk what on people’s mind. It can be any subject they just heard about on the radio, tv (*internet). Look for relevant subjects.
3. Social Talk
3.1 Tips on talking in a variety of settings
The Basics to use:
Find common ground
Don’t be intimidated by groups. Within or outside a group find someone to talk one on one with. Someone who looks alert and interested.
You can also discreetly join a conversation already underway.
A social strategy is to not get caught in one place for too long. Try to mingle. You can prepare several subject topics, to be ready for conversations.
3.3 The greatest question of all time
“Why?” It is the best question ever asked and it always will be. It is a way to dig deeper and ask for the story, emotions, and reasons.
3.4 How to get out of a conversation
Classic remark: “Excuse me I have to go to the bathroom.” When you come back you can start a different conversation.
If you see someone you know. “Hey [friend] this is [newly met stranger], you should meet. I’ll be back in a minute.” Go somewhere else, and hope you didn’t screw over your friend.
Other good lines:
- “This food is delicious. I’m going to help myself to seconds.”
- “Would you excuse me? I’m going to say hello to the host/friend of mine.”
- "Well, I guess I’d better go mingle some more.”
Don’t make too much of your exit. Wait for a slight pause, say something polite and turn away. Like: “It was nice talking to you.” It’s graceful as long as you were sincere.
3.5 Small Dinners
Use the basic tips here as well: be interested, open and listen
Try to guide the flow of the talk. Making it about the subjects and arguments you want to discuss. Make sure people enjoy themselves.
3.6 ’Quarterback’ the conversation
Choose a topic that will involve everybody. Like something, everybody has an opinion on. Avoid subjects just some people can talk about
Solicit opinions, don’t just offer your own.“What do you think about [x]?”
Help the shyest person in the room.
- "What do you think?"
- "Go to a subject they want to talk about."
Don’t monopolize the conversation. You don’t own it, give equal time to people. More people present? Less time to talk, more to listen. ’Overtalking’ doesn’t make a great impression on your listener.
People who talk too much pay a price and lose credibility.
3.7 Don’t give your partner the third degree
Don’t worry, you don’t have to know everything about someone. Don’t go into interrogation mode. Neither move to the other extremes by talking to little, or just monologuing all the time.
Find the right balance!
3.8 “What if” questions
Use wat-ifs to start conversations in a social setting. Especially when there is a lull in the conversation. For example:
- “What if the internet just stopped working right now, what would you do to keep your life on track?”
There are infinite what if questions. Moral and philosophical what ifs are just as effective as topical ones. Try to make some interesting yourself.
If the conversation goes well, forget this tactic.
Sometimes a ‘what if’ doesn’t hit home. Forget about it and move on. Don’t force it on a conversation.
3.9 Pay attention to the physical setting
when you have people over. Focus on creating the right setting. It doesn’t have to be fancy or dramatic. As long as it makes your guests comfortable.
Allow people to sit close together. An underpopulated room/table makes people awkward.
3.10 Family gatherings, from weddings to funerals
Weddings and other family gatherings are easy occasions to practice talking. You know most of the people and the people are happy. Even with people you have not met before, on a wedding, for example, have a lot of subjects in common. The bride, groom, family, etcetera.
Funerals, on the other hand, are a challenge. If you go there for support or offer your condolences. Don’t be so obvious to be redundant. Avoid saying “I know how you must feel”. Because you often don’t.
Saying things like, “it is such a tragedy” or “It’s a terrible loss” implies you are there to gauge their level of grieve. Which you are not. You are there to speak for yourself and show sympathy. Talk about a favorite, good-natured memory you had with the deceased. Like a humorous anecdote.
If you don’t know the deceased. Make a brief statement about their achievements. How they were respected in career, family or anywhere else.
3.11 How to talk to celebrities
An obstacle for many people, mainly because people are intimidated by fame. People easily embarrass themselves or belittle the achievements of someone. Neither stereotype them to just their profession.
Celebrities are normal people, who enjoy a normal conversation just like everyone else. Just see them as normal people, not ‘famous’ people. With their own likes/dislikes/flaws/and strengths. So don’t be intimidated, they are human like you.
4. Eight things the best talkers have in common
4.1 Successful people are successful talkers – and vice versa
Most successful people are successful talkers. Remember, it’s a skill that can be developed. They speak well enough in various setting to achieve success and even greatness.
4.2 The eight characteristics
For most people, the biggest concern is being effective in everyday conversation. Take note of these eight characteristics of exceptional talkers.
- Looking at things from a new angle
- Have broadened horizons
- Don't just talk about yourself
- Be curious
- Show empathy
- Having a sense of humor
- Your own style
#1 Looking at things from a different angle
The ability to take new angles on familiar subjects. Finding unexpected insights to discuss. Use your depth of knowledge and mental flexibility.
#2 Have broadened horizons
Look beyond the obvious. This by talking a lot and being both interesting and interested. By listening well to people, you can know about a wide range of subjects. The habit of listening well makes you a pleasant person to be around.
Listening to your elders amplifies this effect. They are treasure troves of interesting information.
Show your love for talking and listening. You can’t fake it. So cultivate it. Use enthusiasm from your job, hobby or family – draw on it when talking. Showing it in your conversation.
#4 Don’t just talk about yourself
Of course, tell something about yourself but don’t draw it out. Turn the conversation back to them.
#5 Be curious
The best talkers are interested about everything. This makes them good listeners and helps to broaden their horizon.
#6 Show empathy
Showing empathy towards people. Show you can relate to what people are feeling. Create a strong emotional connection with people, by drawing them out with emphatic interest.
#7 Having a sense of Humor
Humor is a welcome trait everywhere. Never stay serious for too long. But don’t force your jokes, be yourself and let your jokes flow. Whatever your style of humor is – let it come in the conversation naturally
#8 Your own style
Successful talkers have their own style. A personal way of conveying thoughts. Find a way of talking you are comfortable with and that works.
4.3 A final thought: on shutting up
No matter how brilliant a talker you are, sometimes it is better to be silent. If there is a strong urge to stay out of something, pay attention, and be silent.
5. Trendy Talk and Political Correctness
You need to worry about communicating well. Not about impressing people. It’s more important to ask a good question than to phrase an elaborate answer. Pay attention to the following mistakes.
5.1 Inflated words
The right word is easily recognized and understood. So it is often the simplest. But there is always a tendency to use buzz/pop words. Without them adding anything to communication.
Ego is the problem here. People think that bigger words make their subject and themselves more important.
Avoid this pompous language.
5.2 Trendy talk
Hype words and TV (internet) quotes. Spawned by fads, events, and personalities. They become instant cliches. Create your own catchphrases. But minimize the trendy talk
5.3 “Nothing words”
Certain words, and some noises that add nothing to the conversation can creep in. Useful when stalling, but don’t get depended on them.
Phrases like: “you know” “like” “basically”. They are throwing in words people use for no reason except force of habit. Leave them out.
5.4 Missing words
In some cases, fewer words, not more are being used. Distorting the meaning. It's another form of trendy talk.
5.5 Breaking bad speech habits
Start listening to yourself. Pay attention what comes out of your mouth.
Think about what you are going to say. Try to plan the next sentence as you speak the first. Practice makes perfect.
Enlist a speech monitor. A friend or family member, who *zaps *you when using a nothing word or trendy talk.
So that’s it. The most important information of this little book. King makes a lot of good points. Though he draws out some too much and undervalues other aspects of talking. But that is my opinion. Hopefully, this helps you guys!