Group conversations can be very tricky.
Groups come with a lot of moving parts. No one can predict exactly what someone else will say, who will show up, or where you’ll even be. While that’s part of the fun of being in a group, it can be stressful if you’re not sure how to behave or what to say in group settings.
In these situations, it’s normal to feel excluded and anxious. It’s normal to wonder, “What do these people think about me?” All of these things are normal.
But with the right tools and a little bit of practice, you can be as confident talking with a group of strangers as you are with your close friends.
How to feel at ease in groups
The number one thing you can do to make great impressions in group settings is get proactive.
Think about it. How many people just show up to a group event and stand there with their backs against the wall, expecting to be entertained by someone else?
That’s not only rude, it’s a terrible strategy for making a good impression. When you do this, you’re leaving what everyone thinks of you up to chance.
The better approach is to take control of the situation — so you decide how people remember you.
You can accomplish this in a couple of different ways:
1. Brainstorm a list of topics to talk about BEFORE you ever get to the event.
That way you don’t have to stand there awkwardly, trying to come up with clever things to say.
What should be on your list?
People want to talk about what other people are talking about. To get a shortlist, just look at the news, Twitter, or Facebook. The trending topics 26 on these platforms are the perfect kinds of things to bring up in group conversations. Plus, they make for easy icebreakers and allow you to be proactive in striking up conversations.
So you might say something like, “Did you see what so-and-so did at the MTV Video Music Awards OR the VMAs yesterday?” Or, “Woah, did you know what so-and-so is doing?”
It encourages people in the group to chime in and say, “Yeah! I saw that! That was crazy!” Or you’ll have others who say, “No, what’s happening?” Then you can explain it briefly to kickstart a deeper conversation.
It’s a great way to get a group conversation rolling along and everyone engaged.
2. Plan the type of impression you want to leave on people.
To do that, ask yourself:
When you spend some time planning these things out, you can have some conversation ideas on hand that give off the impression you want.
For example, if you want to make people laugh, prepare a few jokes and a list of funny things to talk about. If you want people to know you’re intelligent, do a little research and put together a list of fun facts to drop into a discussion.
The point is by doing this up front, you remove all the guesswork. You’re prepared with material to use when the opportunity is right.
3. Engage everyone in the conversation
The next step to making a great impression in group events is to engage everyone.
One thing that irritates me at group events is when you see two people having a conversation all by themselves. Sometimes they’ll even talk loud enough that no one else can speak.
Don’t be those people. If you’re speaking, engage other people as much as you can.
You can do it by using my humbly titled S.E.T.H.I. technique.
Simple, but very effective. In a group, you naturally trust, like, and gravitate toward people with genuine smiles. In the beginning, forcing yourself to smile more might feel fake, but keep practicing. It’s worth it.
Take whatever energy level you’re at now and add 50% more energy. Test it in small, anonymous places like at a coffee shop. See what kind of reactions you get. Then work up to using it at work and with your friends. You’ll be amazed at the difference.
Fast talking is a sure-fire way to make people tune out. If you’re a fasttalker, forcing yourself to slow down, while awkward for you, will be a welcome change to your listeners.
Your hands can be very expressive. Adding gestures (and not hiding your hands in your pockets or crossing your arms) can dramatically improve your communication.
The most socially fluent people don’t avoid eye contact, nor do they stare down other people. They look at you, they look away, then they come back. You can practice this rhythm, too.
How to instantly and deeply connect with more people
All these tactics help you once you’ve gotten a conversation to spark. But sometimes you’ll need an extra push — a way of deeply connecting with people even if it feels a little weird at first.
That’s why I want to share one of my favorite interviews with you. It’s from a session I had with one of my good friends Ron Lieber.
Ron Lieber is an award-winning journalist who writes the “Your Money” column for The New York Times. Watch as he discusses his techniques for creating instant rapport with someone he meets for the first time.
Here’s just some of what we covered in our conversation:
How to strike up a conversation with anyone — and go deeper than the generic, “Hi, how are you?”The fun “conversational game” you can play to rapidly build your personal-connection skills