Readers will be surprised to hear that I wasn’t always the charming, hilarious, and stylish personal finance expert they know now.
Hell, I was so awkward I made Urkel look like Robert Downey Jr.
Which is why I had to smile when I got this email from an IWT reader named Emily a while back:
“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.”
And you’ve probably been there before:
- You walk up to a group of friends 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.
It’s a fascinating paradox. With your friends or family, you tend to have the BEST stories, but if you just met a group of people, all of a sudden your mind goes blank and you have nothing to say. Most people are willing to say “that’s how it is,” but you can actually fix by implementing the right systems.
Today, I want to teach three systems that helped me know exactly what to say in social situations, and — more importantly — how to say it.
- Perfect Words
- Story Toolbox
- Question Toolbox
Let’s get to it.
How to talk to people system #1: Perfect Words
A while back, I went out to coffee with a good friend of mine. Now normally, when I order coffee, I just say, “Hey, I’ll have a latte. Thank you,” before going on my way.
But when my buddy went up to order his coffee, he had four people around him absolutely cracking up within seconds. The barista was smiling. People around him were laughing. And everyone seemed to just really enjoy his presence.
And guess what he said that got all this going. It was, “What’s good today?”
That’s it! From that one line he was able to start a great conversation.
Now I want you to check out the rest of his conversation — and see what you notice:
MY FRIEND: What’s good today?
BARISTA: (smiling) Everything is good.
MY FRIEND: (teasing) Everything isn’t good. Tell me the truth!
BARISTA: Well, we just got a new cold pressed coffee machine and I hear that’s supposed to be good.
MY FRIEND: No, I mean what would YOU get if you could get anything?
BARISTA: (laughs) I actually think that our scones are the best things ever.
MY FRIEND: Well, I’ll have two of those please!
A few takeaways:
- He’s just saying normal things. There’s no magic line or canned jokes here. My friend was just saying simple things that, on their face, aren’t very clever…but none of that mattered!
- He had a lot of energy. The way my friend said things was way more important than what he said. If he went into this situation with low energy and delivered everything in a monotone voice, he would not have gotten the same positive effect.
- The cashier LOVED this. She spends all day listening to those aforementioned monotone voices order the same thing over and over. Finally, she got someone who broke that monotony and made her smile. My friend brightened her day and was memorable.
My friend did all this by leveraging a system called the “Perfect Words.”
What are the Perfect Words? Luckily for you, they created a whole book of them called…
The truth is there are no Perfect Words.
Instead, it’s how you say things that determines how you come off.
To show you what I mean, I’m going to give you three phrases and show you exactly how you can use them to open a great conversation:
- Hi, how’s your morning going?
- Hi, I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Ramit.
- Good morning. How are you?
These three simple phrases have no “magic” to them — and yet they’ve worked millions of times since the dawn of conversation openers.
What I want you to do now is start to consider the different ways you can deliver these phrases.
Here are three simple ways you can do that:
Smiling. Many of us don’t typically smile when we’re opening a conversation. We’ll say things like, “Hi, how’s your morning going?” and deliver it like we’re a doctor giving bad news.
But when we DO smile, it’s the instant ice breaker. And it’s so simple to do.
So practice letting your smile “fill your face.” I used to videotape myself speaking to find out I wasn’t smiling enough. It gets easier once you start practicing.
Slow down. The speed in which we say something can have a huge effect on how people perceive us. When we’re nervous, we tend to speed up the way we talk. When we slow down though, it gives people time to connect with you. Couple that with a good smile and you got a winning system.
So try slowing down what you’re saying by 50%. It will feel sluggish, but this is perfect for everyone else. It helps to enunciate your words too. Young Ramit got way ahead using this one tip.
Change your tone. Way back in the day, I had no tonality whatsoever when I talked. I’m sure you could close your eyes and not tell if you were conversing with me or Ben Stein. Eventually I realized this, so I started to speak with more energy — and it did WONDERS.
Try taking whatever level you’re at when you normally talk, and add 50% more energy into your voice. What feels weird to you is NORMAL to everyone else.
Action step: Implement the Perfect Words 3x/day for a week
I want you to use the three phrases above every day for seven days on different strangers. It can be your Amazon Prime delivery guy, your barista, the checkout lady at the grocery store, whoever!
As you use the phrases though, keep in mind the different ways you can change up how you deliver your words (smiling, slowing down, and changing your tone).
A few other things to remember:
- They’re called social “skills,” and like any skill, you can get better at them. We’re starting small on purpose. As you get more used to it, you can start to scale and open conversations with more people.
- Most people you talk to are bored all day long. This means you’ll be doing them a favor by engaging with them just like my friend was with the cashier at the coffee shop.
- Note their reactions and your reactions. Did the person you’re talking to start smiling and laughing because of your energy? Or did they retreat because you made them uncomfortable? How did you feel while you were smiling or talking slowly?
Don’t worry if this doesn’t feel comfortable right away. It’s not supposed to. Just trust the system.
How to talk to people system #2: Make a Story Toolbox
I’m a firm believer in the idea that telling a story is the best way to engage someone. It doesn’t matter if you’re with friends or if you’re trying to sell a product. A good story can make a world of difference when it comes to building a good first impression (notice the beginning of this very post…).
That’s why you always want a large well of great stories to draw on.
You can create your Story Toolbox using any tool you prefer, such as:
- Google Docs (what I use)
- Microsoft Word
- Microsoft Excel
- A physical notepad
It doesn’t matter what you record them with as long as you ARE recording them. These stories could be funny, entertaining, or serious — and you might actually want to organize them as such.
Action step: Create your Story Toolbox
Designate a place to put your stories, and start by adding five of them.
If you can’t think of five good stories, think back to the last time you hung out with your friends or family.
- What did you talk about?
- What made everyone laugh?
- Every family has an embarrassing/hilarious story. What is it for your family?
Hang out with your friends or family in the next few days, and write down the things you naturally talk about. This will help seed your Story Toolbox for the first time.
How to talk to people system #3: Make a Question Toolbox
If you want to keep the other person you’re talking to engaged, there’s no better way to do it than with a thought-provoking question. It helps you always have something to say and talk to someone you don’t know.
Of course, depending on the context of your conversation, you’re going to want to have different questions for different scenarios.
I remember once, my friend noticed me checking this girl out at a bar, so he goaded me into talking to her. So I approached her and this exchange went down:
Ramit: Hi, I’m Ramit.
Woman: Hi, I’m [whatever].
Ramit: You look like a vodka soda girl. (I know, I know. I don’t know where this horrific line came from.)
I was surprised by how she just shut me down, so I decided to have some fun.
Ramit: Aw, c’mon. I’ve been right 100/100 times for the last 5 years. How are you going to break my streak like that?
Woman: I’m a recovering alcoholic.
Shortest. Conversation. EVER. But a funny story now.
If instead, I came in with my question toolbox filled with questions that weren’t awful pick-up lines, I might have had better luck. That’s why you’re going to want to craft different meaty questions for different scenarios.
Action step: Create your Question Toolbox
So the next time you’re making small talk, take note of great questions you hear and ask. Save them in your Question Toolbox for later.
Here are a few good sample questions to get you started:
Networking events/industry conventions:
- What made you decide to do X?
- What are the biggest challenges when it comes to your industry?
- If you had to do X again, what would you do differently?
- As you gained more experience in X, what became more important and why?
- What would make today/this event successful for you?
- What still surprises you about X?
- What are your biggest goals right now?
- How do you spend your time?
- Playful questions like: Which do you like more — pancakes or waffles?
- What do you hate most about dating? (This question is both interesting and can help you avoid doing the thing they hate.)
- What’s your favorite restaurant in the city? Why?
- Which Spotify playlist is the soundtrack to your life?
- What’s your favorite thing on the menu? Why?
- What’s the craziest thing someone tried to order this week?
- Have you ever written somebody’s name wrong on purpose because you didn’t like them?
BONUS: If you really want to exercise your social muscle, check out my video on improving your social skills. It’s less than 30 minutes.
Enhance your small talk
Small talk is a CRITICAL part of life and building relationships — it’s what helps people get to know each other, establishes meaningful connections, and lays down the foundation for great long-term relationships.
The term “small talk” is actually a complete misnomer because of its HUGE impact on forming relationships and developing unshakable confidence. As such, it takes a lot more care and nuance than just getting right down to the point.
If you walked right up to a CEO you admired at a mixer or convention and said, “I REALLY LIKE YOU. GIVE ME A JOB, PLEASE!” how do you think she’d react? She probably wouldn’t give you that job.
But if you went in with some care, and drew her into an amazing conversation and THEN asked her for a job (or better yet just advice or a coffee meeting), she’d be a hell of a lot more susceptible to it.
The key is realizing that confidence and the ability to carry a good conversation are skills — and like any other skill they can be learned, honed, and mastered.
I used to feel uncomfortable and out of place during social events too — but over time, I’ve developed hacks for confidence in new situations.
I’ll show you exactly how I do it in these 3 short videos. Just enter your email for instant access.