How To Talk To People: 3 Proven Systems (anyone can use)

Do you ever feel like you don’t know how to talk to people? 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 isn’t that great. But , you continue anyway.
  • You go to an event and instead of meeting people, pull out your phone and furiously check email.

With your friends or family, you 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.

Today, I want to teach you 3 systems that helped me learn how to talk to people with confidence and know exactly what to say in any social situation.

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Table of Contents

The Best Systems to Learn 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 dictionary.

What are the Perfect Words? Luckily for you, they created a whole book of them called…

…the dictionary.

Boo this man gif

 

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:

  1. Hi, how’s your morning going?

  2. Hi, I don’t think we’ve met. I’m Ramit.

  3. 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. Enhancing your communication skills is crucial here, as it’s not just about what you say but how you convey it. Effective communication skills, including digital communication, are essential in preventing misunderstandings and misconceptions. They also play a significant role in both public speaking and casual conversations, requiring practice to master the art of delivering your message effectively.

While you’re working on your phrases, here are some more tips to help you tap into the secret habits of successful people:

Here are three simple ways you can do that:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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. Additionally, incorporating conversation starters into your daily interactions can significantly enhance your ability to initiate and maintain engaging conversations, making every social interaction an opportunity to practice and perfect your skills.

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

  • Evernote

  • 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.

Good stories often elicit interesting responses, enhancing the conversation.

 

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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.

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. Including follow-up questions in your Question Toolbox can show genuine interest and keep the conversation flowing, as these types of questions are essential for demonstrating that you’re listening and truly engaged in the discussion.

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.)

Woman: …no.

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:

  1. What made you decide to do X?
  2. What are the biggest challenges when it comes to your industry?
  3. If you had to do X again, what would you do differently?
  4. As you gained more experience in X, what became more important and why?
  5. What would make today/this event successful for you?
  6. What still surprises you about X?

Dates:

  1. What are your biggest goals right now?
  2. How do you spend your time?
  3. Playful questions like: Which do you like more — pancakes or waffles?
  4. What do you hate most about dating? (This question is both interesting and can help you avoid doing the thing they hate.)
  5. What’s your favorite restaurant in the city? Why?
  6. Which Spotify playlist is the soundtrack to your life?

Baristas/wait staff:

  1. What’s your favorite thing on the menu? Why?
  2. What’s the craziest thing someone tried to order this week?
  3. Have you ever written somebody’s name wrong on purpose because you didn’t like them?

Enhance your small talk with conversation starters

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.

Integrating active listening and maintaining eye contact are pivotal in making small talk more engaging and meaningful. Active listening involves fully concentrating on what is being said rather than just passively hearing the message of the speaker. It shows respect and builds trust by valuing their words, and using verbal and non-verbal cues to show engagement. Eye contact, on the other hand, signals interest and sincerity, fostering a deeper connection. It’s crucial, however, to avoid distractions such as phone usage, which can significantly detract from the quality of the conversation and the connection being made.

Finding common ground can smoothly transition small talk into deeper, more meaningful conversations. By identifying mutual interests or shared experiences, it becomes easier to establish a connection and keep the conversation flowing. This approach not only makes the interaction more enjoyable but also lays the groundwork for a potentially rewarding relationship.

FAQs

How do I get better at talking with people?

Improving your conversation skills starts with a mindset shift: Be genuinely interested in the person you’re talking to. It’s not just about you being interesting; it’s about being interested. Ask open-ended questions that encourage detailed responses, not just yes or no answers. Listen more than you speak. Really listen, don’t just wait for your turn to talk. This shows respect and builds rapport. Practice your storytelling skills to share experiences in engaging ways. Also, be aware of body language, yours and theirs. It tells you when to dive deeper into a topic or when to steer the conversation elsewhere. Lastly, don’t fear silence; it’s a natural part of conversation. Improving these skills takes practice, so seize every opportunity to engage with new people.

How do you start talking to people?

Begin with a simple, context-specific remark or a sincere compliment, and use their response to dive deeper. Great conversations are about connecting meaningfully, not just talking. So, listen more than you speak, and focus on creating a genuine connection. This approach works wonders, whether you’re at a networking event or just in line for coffee.

How to carry a good conversation?

Carrying a conversation smoothly comes down to balancing listening and sharing. It’s about creating a back-and-forth rhythm where both people feel heard and interested. Also, being adaptable and sensitive to cues is crucial; if the topic isn’t resonating, be ready to pivot gracefully to something else. Keep in mind that the goal is to make the conversation enjoyable and meaningful for both parties, not just to fill silence.

How to get people to like you?

To get people to like you, the secret sauce really isn’t a secret at all: be genuinely interested in them!  People love talking about themselves, so ask thoughtful questions and listen actively. Show that you value their opinions and experiences. Also, be your authentic self; authenticity attracts. Focus on building real connections by being kind, showing empathy, and maintaining a positive, approachable demeanor. You’ll find that when you’re genuinely interested in others and you’re authentic, people naturally gravitate towards you. And don’t forget, a little humor goes a long way.

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Written by

Host of Netflix's "How to Get Rich", NYT Bestselling Author & host of the hit I Will Teach You To Be Rich Podcast. For over 20 years, Ramit has been sharing proven strategies to help people like you take control of their money and live a Rich Life.