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“Help! My mind ‘goes blank’ when I talk to people”

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Let’s COUNT the ways that some of you have been socially awkward when meeting new people:

  • You walk up to 2 people talking. Stand there awkwardly while waiting for one of them to notice you. Wish for death
  • You start telling a story to a group of people and — in the middle of it — realize the story sucks. Continue anyway
  • You go to an event and instead of meeting people, pull out your phone and furiously check email

To my socially awkward IWT readers: I know the feeling. The stylish, charming Ramit Sethi you now know wasn’t always so smooth.

I would walk into meetings and make a point, then writhe in pain at the silence in the room, since nobody understood what point I was making. Once, on a phone call after I’d spent 2 minutes talking, one person paused and said, “So…what exactly do you want?” I had no reply.

The good news is, you can improve at having better conversations, more fun, and even become more attractive.

So today, I wanted to share a question from IWT reader Emily S.:

“How do you approach companies/or anything else when you don’t have any confidence? I seem to go mentally blank. And the words don’t come out at all. Backwards and not in order.”

I know the feeling. When I’m with friends, I have the BEST stories. But if I meet a group of people I don’t know, suddenly I have nothing to say. Most people just think “that’s how it goes,” but you can actually treat this as a skill and improve it.

Here — I just posted a video showing how to improve social skills. I compressed some of my best insights into this short video.

  • My best strategy for overcoming anxiousness and having something to talk about (so you’ll have good conversation and people will think you’re interesting) (1:22)
  • A system to come up with questions that will pull people into conversation with you (3:02)
  • The skill you can practice that, once you master it, will make people believe you were “born” confident and eloquent (3:52)
  • How to go from socially dysfunctional to competent and confident (4:13)

Watch the video, then respond to this question in the comments below:

What’s one thing you would you do right now if you had more confidence? Also, if you have any embarrassing stories about doing something socially awkward, share them.

I bought some new popcorn so I’m looking forward to reading these.

P.S. If you’re interested in diving even deeper, check out this video where I tear down my own TV appearance and provide exact tactics on how to immediately improve your social skills in under 30 minutes.

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81 Comments

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  1. If I were more confident, I’d sit down next to you on the couch, look straight into your eyes, and calmly ask if I can share your popcorn.

  2. Confidence is a funny thing. It was something I lacked for a long time, but then when I finally managed to get some, I realised how much I could do. Weird as it sounds, I think a lack of confidence stopped me from losing weight (kept telling myself I couldn’t do it), and prevented me from executing on a lot of things I wanted to.

    I think my confidence is not what it once was, and needs topping up, as I don’t seem to be able to work towards my goals etc. as well as I was able to back in those glory days. If I were more confident I would probably be dedicating all the time necessary to learning how to drive.

  3. If I were more confident, I would not be filled with anxiety, procrastinate and find “busy work” when it comes time to pick up the phone to make sales calls that would grow my online retail business.

    My most embarrassing story comes from years ago when I was in the military. At a technician’s meeting in our aircraft maintenance unit, I thought that I had something very profound to say, and as I spoke up to be heard above the discussion, the room went silent, all eyes focused on me and my mind went blank. After about 30 seconds of nothing coming out of my mouth, the entire unit burst out laughing, and our CO thanked me.

  4. Geeeez, im soo f**in excited to watch this vid. I dont know I just have got so jacked up about the idea again of socializing. Ramit, please, spend some more time on compiling videos and articles and stuff like this and the one titled “how to improve your social skills in 30minutes”
    watched it like 100 times, okay maybe 101, but come on, confidence and networking and socializing skills are the keys to anything else,

    Okay im done talking, im gon get busy and watch this baby.

    • allright, so ive heard some nice tips on how to improve the skill at issue. Scenario planning is definitely a surefire way of dealing with awkward situations. It is like your Story toolbox idea. Uve got specific questions backed up with perfect answers ( at least you think ), uve got stories to tell perfectly learnt. VErrrry good! Been doing this for a while now.
      – So the number one thing i would do if I had more confidence is to shout whatever comes to my mind on streets while walking, , and passing by Loads of ppl, similarly, being able to hold a presentation, tell stories. And here is the kicker, doing these Without even Having to think about what (negative or positive ) they can be thinking about me. So that is called confidence in social situations to me, when u can express yourself completely freely, without the single thought of what the others be it a passer by, be it a classroom full of students, be it a networking event, be it a HUGE AUDIENCE, think about you.

      awkward situation: while telling my biggest funniest story (at least thats what I think again) the other person got soo bored to death that he just turned away and started to speak to someone else instead. I wanted to kill myself, but first HIM. ‘Funniest’ point, is that the ppl I was surrounded by noticed this ( a LOT of ppl) and started to frown, laugh, ignore etc.

      so thanks again Ramit for sharing your wisdom with us.

  5. Long time reader, first time commentator.

    Situational awareness isn’t my problem, I hate to make small talk but over time I’ve just gotten used it. I’ve found that given half a chance people will continue to talk if you prompt them with open ended questions and inject occasionally, leading them down a certain path or on a new tangent.

    In terms of the body language play poker. I’m not kidding here. You learn a hell of a lot of how people react talk, move, think and feel at a real live poker table. Joe Navarro’s book what everybody is saying (he’s an ex FBI profiler) is an excellent primer if you fancy a read.

    My problem is which Emily alludes to in some extent is that my mind goes blank. I’m constantly searching for the right word which is at the tip of my tongue and then I realize I’m probably not using it in the right context so I should use an easier word I can recall which has a lesser impact. This hinders my thought process and whilst seconds pass by, my pace of speaking goes out of the window and I can see that the person who I’m talking to is thinking – why is this guy so clumsy? This leaves me in a downward spiral which is hard to pull out from, especially in situations like an interview.

    Is there a course, book, guide, tactic or strategy that can help one to speak more fluently? It’s not elocution lessons I’m looking for, but something which can help me sufficiently express myself without sounding like I don’t know what I’m talking about.

    • I feel exactly the same way Rakish. I believe that it may depend on the other person or group and how relaxed they seem. If a person seems genuinely interested in what you have to say they make you feel more relaxed and confident. Others make act stressed or uninterested and make you feel less confident and more likely to forget what you want to say. This is something that I’m trying to overcome. Ramit’s suggestions are worth a try. You may sound foolish at first but you can overcome your obstacle. Good luck!

    • The feels, you’ve described perfectly what I struggle with too. Its impacting my confidence a fair bit. Have you found any solutions since identifying the root of your problem.

  6. I am a confident person. I like to think I can handle any type of conversation that comes my way. Bring it!

    Well. . . funny story, just yesterday evening I attended a spiritual group that I had not been to in awhile. Great group of people.

    I stood around before it started with the group leaders and 3 other members. No one was talking. Everyone kind of just smiled at one another when one of the leaders chimed in accounting our low turn out to the BIG Hawks game that was on.

    At this point, I proceeded to say outloud…. “Oh, is that like why no one is here?!” *dead silence* Wow, I should have included that in Confession later when I spoke with Fr. Jason to confess my sins.

    It wasn’t until I got home and drank a beer and thought back to the gathering that I realized my comment was rude. I was not contributing anything positive to the group and created an extremely awkward social situation. *face palm*

  7. There is someone I can’t stop thinking about, it’s driving me crazy. I think about them everyday and I see this person at least 3xs a week.

    I wish I had the confidence to start a conversation, even just a fucking, ‘hello how are you?’

    But instead I always get this funny feeling in my stomach like I need to poop.

    Yep.

    Oh and Ramit, HOW do you go up to two people having a conversation already and not awkwardly join in?

  8. If I were more confident and better at conversations I’d look forward to the 5 minutes in Church where we’re supposed to say Hi to someone…instead I would rather walk to a dark corner and claw my eyes out.

    Awkward moment: Oddly enough in college I took a position to recruit members for my fraternity…yea not a good fit but I did it to get free room/board for a year. I remember having a list of names/numbers to cold call and to find interested incoming students. One person was very closed off and just kept saying no but wouldn’t end the conversation…finally I said hey you so you’re not interested but why not just meet me for dinner I’ll blow smoke up your a**, talk about rainbows and puppies then you can say you got a free meal while I can say I at least tried…this resulted in awkward silence followed by him hanging up and be left banging my head on the desk.

    • Travis, that was too funny!! “I would rather walk to a dark corner and claw my eyes out.” I was cracking up for a few min….thank you so much. I needed that today!

  9. I just forwarded this to a group of people going to a conference to talk to people and try to get jobs. I think it will help people talking to strangers, for sure. Great video, I almost went down the IWT rabbit hole, but I will later.

    Personally, I used to be more shy and scared, but I find that the first step is not caring how it goes. Just forget about all the disasters that can happen, and focus on the good things that can. I still keep in touch with people I randomly met for 5 min a year ago. It’s really been a big change, and made me realize that I am actually pretty good with words, but I was scared because of a new arena.

    Thanks, Ramit.

    Also, how was the popcorn?

  10. If I were more confident. I could stop living in fear. I could work to achieve goals rather than work to avoid failure. I would be happier. I would be a better Father, Husband, Friend. I would be more at peace. I would probably sign up for your courses, but I can’t do that because I’m afraid it won’t work and I’ll have been fooled or worse they would require me to do things that I’m afraid of. I have 45 years of training on this and I’m very good at it.

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