The Power of Conversation

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I have a friend of mine, an attractive woman slightly younger than me, whom I have known almost literally all of our lives. She is very much in the mold of “the younger sister I never wanted”, and we’ve always been close. So as one of her surrogate older brothers, I have frequently been in the position to watch her various relationships come and go over the years. Much to her eternal surprise and wonderment, I could always, always predict which guy she was always going to end up dating, with 100% accuracy.

It wasn’t any particular psychic insight, nor was it a tendency to date a specific “type”.

No, her every relationship inevitably would start with the phrase “So we just had the most incredible conversation.”

You may look like Ryan Gosling with Brad Pitt’s smile, Ryan Reynold’s abs and Bill Gates’ paycheck. You may have insight in how to be more attractive  to women.

But if you can’t carry on a conversation with the women you meet, you’ll be going nowhere fast.

Looks, sex appeal and whatever social insights you may have learned will only get you so far with women. Even pick-up artists learn quickly that eventually you can’t rely on tricks or routines. You have to be able to carry on an interesting conversation with a woman, even women you’re meeting in bars or clubs. Conversation is part of how we find commonalities and build interest in one another. Our words and voices have power and influence. What we say – and how we say it – conveys as much about us, if not more, as our clothing and body language. If you look like a Greek God but your conversation is peppered with nervous stammers, verbal pauses like “Umm” and “Er…” and your eyes flick around to anywhere but on the person you’re talking to, that brief attraction is going to melt like a snowball in a Texas summer and she’ll be looking for any excuse she can find to get away from you.

"Oh God, he's still talking!"

Find Your REAL Voice.

Before worrying about the content, you need to make sure to master the instrument first. As odd as it is to hear – after all, you’ve been speaking for most of your life – you’re probably doing it wrong.

To start with, you need to learn to speak with the support of your diaphragm. If you’re like 99% of the population, then you’re doing most of your speaking with your upper lungs and nose, not your diaphragm. When you’re speaking from your upper chest, you’re not getting as much oxygen or projection as you would be from speaking from your diaphragm. To start learning how to speak from your diaphragm, first you have to find it. Lay flat on your back on the floor and inhale deeply – into your stomach, not into your chest. Put your hands over your stomach and let your stomach expand when you breathe. Feel where it pushes out against your hand. This is your diaphragm. Now make a short exhalation – a “huh” sound. Notice how your stomach tenses up when you speak? This is where you want to derive your voice from. It takes time and practice to learn to speak from the diaphragm, but once you’re aware of it, you can start learning how to use it.

Next, you want to find the natural pitch of your voice. Odds are you’re speaking higher than you normally would. The easiest way to find your natural pitch is to do what is known as the “Hum Test”. Close your lips and hum a continuous tone that feels natural to you. You’ll feel the difference if you’re either too high or too low. As you find your pitch, hum and then start counting – “One, two, three” at that pitch. You’ll notice that it’s actually easier on your vocal chords to speak at your natural pitch.

Eliminate Fillers From Your Speech

You may not be aware of it at first, but a lot of your speech is in the form of “um”, “er”, “ah”, “like” and other vocal placeholders while you speak. They’re verbal indicators that you’re trying to think of something to say and you’d like another minute or two while you try to put it together. They’re a natural part of conversation, but they can easily overwhelm what you’re trying to say and make you look like either you’re completely incoherent or that you couldn’t be bothered to think before you speak. They’re basically conversational speed bumps and they can make you look like like an idiot. There’s a reason why DJs and television personalities learn not to use them. The fewer vocal fillers you include in your speech, the more intelligent and confident you will sound. You need to learn to eliminate them from your natural flow of dialogue.

Instead of using these fillers, you need to learn to use pauses and silence instead. Silence, when used properly, can be incredibly powerful. Pauses and silence will make your speech flow smoothly and cause people to listen more intently. A pause in your speech will act as a vacuum; the person you’re talking to will want to fill in that sudden empty space and they’ll be more interested in what you’re about to say.

Use the voice memo feature on your phone or record your voice using your webcam’s mike and speak for 30 seconds about any object in your room. Just ramble off the top of your head… but you aren’t allowed to use “like,” “You know”, “Um” or other fillers. Any time you feel as though you’re going to use a filler, pause for a second instead. After you’re done, play back the recording and note how many times you said “Um” or “err”. It’ll almost certainly be more than you thought you did. Keep practicing with recording yourself and you’ll find that using silence as a filler instead of verbalizations will start feeling completely natural.

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  • Even if I didn't already know, it would be SO obvious you've been in acting before. 😛

    • Dr. NerdLove

      Honestly, not outside of high-school drama classes and productions.

  • Kimura-Triangle

    Want a good way to weed those umms and ahhs out? Start recording a podcast regularly and then take on the role of editing the audio down! You'll either truncate your speech into something much more coherent sounding, or go INSANE!!! =D

    • KillerGecko

      I HAVE done this. I tried to do commentaries for a video game that I was good at and wanted to share my knowledge, but when I tried to make the vid I just kept saying "ummm, er, aaaannnnd". It is hard to take them out without practice.

  • This is a great article as someone who finds conversations odd.

    Any tips on how to continue conversations as I'm not naturally a talker and perfectly content to pretty much sit in silence, which I know is a huge issue but I'm not sure how to deal with it… some of the time I just make Zoidberg noises.

    • N3rdyGirl83

      (I know this is old, but I'm replying in case you actually read this and/or if others in the same situation do)

      Not just for dating:
      I'm extremely socially awkward, but I've been forced to socialize a lot more as I get older (although, admittedly, rarely in a dating situation). I've found that listening to what is being said and then thinking about something I know that is related (and hopefully not too crude) to the topic, wait for the other person to stop talking, then say the thing I know. (i.e. person mentions they are a nurse… talk about something – not offensive – you know about nurses, or ask a question relating to what they said.)

      It's probably a good idea to practice this with casual acquaintances that you have no romantic/sexual interest in before trying it in a dating situation (practice makes the whole thing less awkward).

      Another way to build immediate rapport with another person (and feel less nervous) is by talking about something you're passionate about (it's even better if the person you're talking to has at least a passing interest in the topic).

      For example: I had to go to a Christmas Party recently and had to make small talk with a bunch of people for 2 hours before I could reasonably excuse myself (it was a mandatory work thing). The first person I talked to (other than "I brought food") had a basic understanding of programming, so I was able to talk about some apps/games I've developed and the total joy of my first class in programming where I made a ball move on the screen. I was able to be enthusiastic and talk about something I actually know about, which made the rest of the night (okay… they're talking about wine… I don't drink wine… I like mead… crap, they don't know what mead is…swing and a miss… I like cats… do you like cats?) more bearable.

      Hang in there and keep trying. You may not get to the point you're 'awesome' at talking to people, but you should be able to string a few sentences together.

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  • That speech-filler thing is interesting. It's actually similar to what I do for preparing presentations: just practice over and over and over and listen to myself talk until all the hiccups and 'err'-s and uncomfortable silences have evaporated. I'd never considered applying it to regular talking, though.

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