Saturday, July 9, 2016

On Conversation Skills

I am at a Writer’s Workshop at the beautiful Glen Eyrie Conference Center (and Castle!) in Colorado Springs. If you’ve never been here, it looks like this:

Be jealous.

I’m super excited about this workshop. I’ve wanted to come to this for years. But right off I faced a potentially terrifying situation. There are I think maybe 80 or so people here and I don’t know any of them. At all. I walked onto the lovely terrace and saw all these people talking to each other and thought Oh dear, what now?

So here’s the thing. I might be an introvert. But then again I might be an extrovert. Honestly I’ve never been able to figure that out. I like people but I’m not exactly super social. I like meeting new people but I feel awkward in situations where I don’t know anyone. Over the years I’ve learned something that I’ve found extremely useful in situations where I know absolutely no one in a crowd of people: Conversation skills. Oh, and coffee helps a lot too.

So if you’re about to encounter one of those awkward situations, here’s my advice: Guzzle your coffee beverage of choice, find someone who looks equally as awkward as you feel, and ask, “Can I join you?” Then you ask questions. Start out simple. Ask their name. Where they’re from. What they do for a living. Listen. Ask more questions. Listen more. Smile. Laugh. It’s a simple enough concept but there are plenty of people in the world who are too shy to take the initiative to do it. Guess what? I am extremely shy. Or I used to be, before I learned to talk to people. If I could, I would thank all the beautiful ladies in Mary Kay who taught me how to do it.

I have no idea how well I did with this today but I met some people and had pleasant conversations. I’m pretty sure I talked too much, too loud, and too fast, and I laughed too much (thanks, coffee!) The thing is, writers are not often conversationalists. We love words but we prefer them on pages or screens, crafted painstakingly over multiple drafts. Conversations are just so...spontaneous. Original. Uneditable. Potentially awkward and yes, even terrifying.

Here’s a secret: I pretend to be way more confident than I am. I guide conversations like I know what I’m doing but I’m constantly wondering if people think I’m annoying. I engage in genuine conversation and I sincerely care about what people have to say but there’s always a little voice in my head ticking off pace and telling me things like, “ok you need to shut up now and let the other person talk” or “ok take it down a notch. Drat the caffeine.” I suppose that means I’m not a natural conversationalist. I do have to work at it. Still, I find it is always worth the effort. I love people. I love their stories, their energy, the expressions on their faces when they talk. I can dominate a conversation if I want to or I can let it happen around me. I might be annoying. I might be loud. But at least I can carry on a conversation when I need to. It’s a skill worth brushing off from time to time.

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