One of the most challenging aspects of great communication is having the confidence to talk to others. For some, it’s entirely too easy to blurt out whatever nonsense thoughts we have at the moment: myself included. Others find it difficult to even ask a question in class or in a meeting. Either way, the only road to confidence comes with practice, so here are a few actionable items for you to try and turn into habits to develop your confidence to talk to people from all walks of life.
Maybe you’re shy and you find communication difficult. As you should! It’s the only way that you’ll grow, and you should continue to put yourself in new situations until they are no longer uncomfortable. Learn how to connect with people from all walks of life now when you’re young and the stakes are low. It is very easy to take the path of least resistance, read this section, and not actually practice any of these things. If that’s what you were about to do, stop, and quit rationalizing the fact that you’re not very good at talking to people. These are important practices, so don’t move on until you’ve tried and applied them, because they will quickly and drastically improve your ability to speak. Yes, even if you’re chronically shy.
Introduce yourself to someone new.
Next time there’s a social event to go to, force yourself to go to it. I know, these goofballs sit around and talk about themselves all day and feel like they’ve accomplished something at the end of the night, but that’s their problem. You’re here to practice meeting people.
Start by introducing yourself, saying hello, and asking for their name. While you do it, focus on looking them in the eyes and remembering their name. Ask them more questions. Where are they from? Where are they off to? Listen attentively and find a common thread between you and your newfound friend. Wish them a good day and move on with your own.
The first impression is the basis for any connection that you will make for the rest of your life. The first two minutes of introduction determine a whole lot: this could be a person you become lifelong friends with or just another stranger that you encounter in your journey through life. Master the introduction, and continue introducing yourself to new people as much as you can until it becomes easy.
Ask a question in class or in a meeting.
Next time you are listening to a lecture in class (makes you want to drop out, doesn’t it?), find a good time to ask a question, and ask it. You may be the quietest, loneliest goofball in the class, and that’s perfectly okay. Just ask your question. Ask it with the full intention of gaining information from it. Hear your own voice. Appreciate that you just delivered an idea: a high-level question that no other species on the planet is nearly capable of delivering. That’s impressive.
Realize that you are fully capable of joining the conversation and contributing to it. You don’t have to know anything—asking a question is just verbalizing your ignorance! Yet that’s far more valuable than the next person who wants to finish the teacher’s sentence just to show how smart they are. No shame in not knowing, because there’s no shame in being eager to learn.
Perform comedy at an open mic night.
Give your local comedy club a call and ask if you can perform at their next open mic. Open mics are open to anyone who is willing to perform comedy at the club, so yes, you’re eligible! Prepare three to four minutes of material in advance, and practice it with your friends or family before you go. (You may want to read the latter half of this chapter before you try this.)
This is not an easy task, and will seriously challenge even the best communicators. Not only is it difficult to grab a mic and stand in front of people (which will greatly enhance your ability to do so in other settings), it is equally difficult to be funny while you do it. This should not discourage you! Despite the difficulty, it is an extraordinary experience that will throw you way out of your comfort zone and allow you to learn about communication and why certain things work or don’t work.
More than likely, your jokes will not be that funny. Or, your jokes will not be funny for the reasons you thought they were. If it’s your first open mic, you will probably bomb! The point is not to be hilarious and land an hour-long HBO special (though it is entirely within your power to do so if you choose to put in the necessary work), but to get comfortable being uncomfortable. If you can get up in front of a crowd of any size that expects you to make them laugh, you’re doing well. If you disappoint them and survive to tell the story—as you will—then you’re doing even better.