The Misanthropist’s Guide to Good Conversation
Did you know that you can actually lose weight by talking? Okay, it depends on a few factors, age, weight, and your exercise regimen. Nevertheless, scientists reckon an hour’s talk will use enough energy to blow between 40 – 60 calories. Writers love talking, and boozing, and traditionally it has been part of the writers’ toolkit to spend time talking with fellows, dreaming up new poems, phrases, verses, plot spirals. Speaking about the art of great conversation, Dylan Thomas is famous for his verbal peregrinations in The Fitzroy Tavern in Fitzrovia, London, as well as the nooks and crannies of Soho. Meanwhile, Irish writer Brendan Behan entertained the punters in Neary’s pub in Dublin. Ernest Hemmingway chose the bar El Floridita in Havana for his local hangout. There’s a life-size statue of him, propping up the bar counter. All well and good, but in this busy age of hi-tech, real-time, online writing, who has the time to chat languorous?
The trick is to natter on the fly. Be with others who like to talk, and I mean insane talk, about anything and everything, not random gossip. If you’re going to talk, talk good. Make it so that the consonants and vowels fire up the brain’s delicate nerve endings, and burn fresh ideas into that worn out software. Create those mad concepts and then store them away for regurgitation later. Talk about anything, but talk. Take at random, pizza. Let’s say you are sharing one now with friends. Consider this, where and when was pizza invented? What is the precise balance of pastry to toppings? What about the peculiar expression of tomatoes and cheeses that make the perfect classic Italian pizza? What famous lactose intolerant Roman Emperor guzzled ten pies in one sitting, with chili oil on top, and then died of a massive wind attack? (Okay, I made that up, but it sounds good doesn’t it?)
Huff Post did an article a few years ago on the art of great conversation. The writer, Vanessa Van Edwards (self-acclaimed ‘Modern-Day Dale Carnegie’) gave us no less than 33 pointers on the mechanics of successful talking. All well and good. You can read it yourself by clicking the above link.
Okay, well, here’s my take on it, call it the devil’s advocate version, point for point:
1. Vanessa Says Be Anti-Boring. I Say Be Anti-Everything
Don’t bother asking someone what they do for a living. Who cares. Start off with, ‘The world sucks, doesn’t it? Why get up in the morning? Give me a reason, one good reason, to get out of bed. If you do, I’ll buy you a drink’. (Incentive to the listener to talk).
2. She Says Start off Strong – I Say, Just Start Off
You know what, it doesn’t matter a jot how you know the host of the party, and who’s business is that anyway? Why should you have to cover up the fact that you and your host met via a well-known chat line and later had a secret rendezvous in the back of a black cab. Forget all that, just say, ‘Yeah, we know each other pretty well,’ and head for the Quiche Lorraine.
3. Forget Trips and Adventures
Listen, who has the cash these days for ‘exciting trips and adventures’. Don’t embarrass people by asking them if they’ve been anywhere interesting lately. Talk about the Egyptian section at the British Museum, invite them along, it’s wild!
Listen. I get excited when someone buys me a drink.
Don’t tell a boring story. It’s painful having to screw a grin on your face while some moron tries to ‘entertain you’ with a stupid anecdote. Just be yourself, let the narrative flow, organically.
6. Break it Down or Break Down?
Just tell them about your recent nervous breakdown. That always gets the ball rolling and people tend to feel more at home.
7. Vanessa Says, Be the Highlight
What is this? Celebrity Apprentice? Forget it. Don’t ask some poor partygoer about the ‘highlight’ of their day, let your listener’s dark side come out. They’ll thank you for it.
8. The Handshake?
In theory, you don’t know where it’s been. High fives are safer.
9. The Eyes Have It
Okay, yeah, make eye contact, but don’t freak your companion out with a ‘power gaze’. Just look once or twice, and toss a wink if you feel like.
10. Power Pose?
Who needs a power pose. Stand propped up against the bar like Hemmingway. It’s cool, it’s casual, it’s bound to get someone to buy you a drink.
Can’t even relate to this one.
Just keep it loose and crooked, like Brando. Otherwise, you’ll wind up looking like this:
13. Authenticity? Forget it, Create a Fantasy Self
Nah, dress like John Wayne and pack a pistol. Strut around the room. Real? The heck you are cowboy!
14. From the Heart
Authentic compliments from the heart as a sales pitch? Sicko.
15. What Can I Do For You?
I prefer, ‘What can I do you for?’ A dyslexic sales assistant coined that phrase – bless her.
16. Warm it Up!
To further your cold interaction and make it warmer, include an actionable question at the end of your call or email. For example, you could say, “Could we jump on a call to discuss your goals with time management?” Oh please.
17. Your Feet
Point your feet at the person you want to ‘hone in on’?
Wait. Isn’t that like, stepping on someone’s toes?
It shows that you’re in tune with what that person has to say.
It shows that you should aim your Addidas where the sun don’t shine, buster!
18. The Head Tilt
This could be badly misinterpreted. Look in the other direction as you talk, you’ll get them hooked, wondering ‘WTF is over there?’
19. The Face
Try not to snarl. Simple.
20. To Fist Bump or Not to Fist Bump?
Yeah, always give a high-five, it raises the energy levels and even if you’re out to make a buck, it gives off a good vibe.
21. Sweaty Palms
God Vanessa is so snobby! Listen. My best friend has hyperhidrosis. Besides, what a great talking point, ‘So, Lisa, how many litres did you shake off your wrist today?’ Anyway this doesn’t matter since you’ll be doing high fives my friend.
Hold your hand out and move it up and down with the other person’s hand. What!? Are you calling them a wanker?
23. By the Bar…
At any event, situate yourself right where people are exiting the bar with their drinks. No, stick fast to those ENTERING THE BAR and engage them in conversation. That way they’ll feel forced to buy you a drink, but don’t worry, once the bevies are in, everyone starts to relax.
24. … or By the Food
Sit down where people are eating too. As soon as they put their plates down, shake their hands and start talking to them. No! I hate assholes who interfere with my eating! Not a good way to make friends Vanessa!
25. Don’t Fidget She Says
Don’t stand still. Fidget like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever! Something to talk about.
26. Watch Your Nerves
Forget it, just tell people why your nerves are shot to hell. Chances are they have a crappy boss too. Great ice breaker.
27. Alpha Behavior
If someone and their buddy irritates you with boring talk, sort it by bringing their heads together.
28. The Power of the Lean
So you’re in a group setting and trying to focus on connecting with one person, lean in when he or she talks. It shows, “I want to be with you and talk with you.” Yeah yeah. What if they have bad breath?
29. Display Confidence? Okay, What If I’m Autistic?
Have you ever tried keeping your head down and your chin up? It ain’t easy, but you can talk about the scientific impossibility.
30. Vocal Power
Just scream if you feel stressed. It’s a great way to loosen up, and people do take notice.
31. Remember to Breathe
Well, yeah, or you’re dead, innit?
32. Be Passionate
Hey, that’s private!
And finally (Christ I never thought I’d get to the end of this list. Torture!).
If you’re in a group and you want people to pay attention to you, use the nonverbal hand signal for growth. This involves raising your hand in an upward slope. You’re showing people using your body language how successful you are. Of course, we’re all attracted to successful people and want to start conversations with them.
Yeah, Vanessa, I know a pretty good hand signal in response to that!