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How To Never Have an Awkward Silence Again

How To Never Have an Awkward Silence Again
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It’s senior year of college.

The bar in East Los Angeles is packed with classmates reminiscing about what jobs people have lined up. Most people are standing around, chatting and drinking beer.

Across the room I see a beautiful girl that I’ve always been dying to meet.

A friend introduces me. We talk. We laugh. My friend slides away leaving the two of us to get to know each other better.

After the first five minutes, we run out of things to talk about. After about seven minutes, she gets up, says “Nice to meet you”, and leaves. Just like that.

Awkward silences distance you from the person you are talking to and kill conversations. They are in-your-face reminders showing you how much you don’t have in common with the other person. Luckily, they don’t have to happen.

Here are a few ways to never have an awkward silence again.

1. Don’t Censor Yourself

 People limit themselves when they talk. Too often we are afraid to say the wrong thing or something disagreeable, and we either don’t share what’s on our mind, or we only partially do. Share what you care about! Don’t assume people will be bored or upset with you.

Bad Example

Person: “Did you see the game?”

 You: “Nah I was busy because I had a soccer game last night.”

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 Better Example

Person: “Did you see the game?”

 You: “No, I actually don’t like watching sports and think that playing them is so much more fun. I had my own soccer game last night, which is where I personally get my competitive side out.”

Action Step #1: Treat your next conversation like a Rorschach blot opportunity to share something about yourself. Say the first thing that comes to your mind – bonus points for trying to be vulnerable.

Quick Examples:

Mexico – Talk about Mexican food.

Movies – Talk about the last panda documentary you saw.

Music – Talk about the awesome jazz concert you went to.

Don’t be afraid of saying the wrong thing! Everything is fair game.

2. Don’t Ask Boring Questions

 Where are you from? What do you do? What is your job like? I’m sick of it already. People are horrible when it comes to asking questions. They don’t realize they are acting like robots, and even if they want to connect with someone more, they don’t know what to say! Lucky for you, you know better.

Asking questions should break people out of robot-mode.

People are so used to hearing about other peoples’ banal details and resume that they tune out, or worse, respond in monotone boredom when asked all the same questions. The trick then is to ask the right ones at the right time. Now what are the right questions? Any question that allows that person’s individuality to shine through! These are questions that are fun, different, and usually a surprise to the person.

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Bad Example

You: “So where are you from?”

 Person: “Oh, East LA, what about yourself?”

 You: “NorCal, but I’m down here for school.”

 Person: “Cool.”

 Better Example

You: “Nice to meet you. I can’t believe I’m not the only person here this house was so hard to find.”

 Person: “Haha I know I got a little lost myself.”

 You: “You must be from around here if you got here this easily, though. Are you from LA?”

 Person: “Yeah, East LA! What about you?”

 Action Step #2: The next time you meet someone new, don’t ask him or her “Where are you from?” or “What do you do?” See how long you can go without reverting back to these basic questions. Instead, try to make a comment about the setting, event, etc. and ask a question that they can answer “Yes” or “No” to. “Are you having a good day?” is way more effective than “How are you?” because you can ask “How come?” or “Why?” afterwards and make a deeper connection!

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3. Be Quiet Sometimes 

 Now, this might seem counterintuitive. You might think that by trying to avoid awkward silences, we’re trying to avoid silence all together. And you’d be dead wrong.

Think about the last time that you were hanging out with a best friend, someone you’re really close with.  Were you talking the whole time? Odds are you weren’t. In fact, we’re most comfortable with our good friends that we feel we can be silent when they’re around. In fact, being able to be silent without worrying about what to say is part of what allows our relationship with that person to be what it is.

Being silent (and calm!) with people that you meet for the first time is scary. We feel that we need to continuously ask questions or talk about ourselves nonstop. But try it. Be present and in the conversation, be calm, maybe maintain a little eye contact to let the person know you aren’t drifting off. Usually the other person will continue talking or will appreciate the silence and even feel like an old friend!

Bad Example

You: “Hey how are you doing?”

 Person: “Good, what about you?”

 You: “I’m good thanks”

 *crickets*

 Better Example

You: “What’s up, are you having a good day?”

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Person: “Yeah, I guess so” 

You: “How come?”

 Person: “I just got promoted at my job.”

 You: *silence*

 Person: “It’s actually at a car dealership and I actually don’t know if I want to stay there long term.”

 Usually, strategic silences (usually if the person, in your opinion, hasn’t shared all they could have) open people up. They will keep talking, revealing more things about themselves that you can connect on.

 Action Step #3: In your next conversation, and as nonjudgmentally as possible, take a conversational pause after the person finishes telling you something. This is not to say zone out. But give the other person the chance to share more and elaborate on whatever they just told you. Chances are it will make the other person feel comfortable with you too.

What has or hasn’t worked for you when it comes to defeating awkward silences?

Featured photo credit: Picjumbo.com via picjumbo.com

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)
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You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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