I have shared with you the primary principles behind Patrick King’s book “Improve Your Conversations: Think on Your Feet, Witty Banter, and Always Know What to Say with Improv Comedy Techniques” in my previous post. I could not get enough of it and I had to post it in two installments. This second part, I would like to dwell more about the specific learnings I picked up from this book.
Many years ago, there was this opportunity for me to train in a theatre company where most people joining were working professionals. I took the chance since it was something that I wanted to do but I did not dare to do when I was even younger.
I felt that the lack of spontaneity, facial expression and color in my personality can be improved by this exercise. In attending this workshop I learned bits and pieces about performing and the stage. It seems like all of these can be used in the real world.
I realized I was right about stage techniques being useful in practice. Hence, learning about Patrick’s book delighted me and I am not exaggerating.
Undoubtedly, I loved this book because of its proposition to use improvisation in order to make a good conversation. The word “improvisation” or “improv” is a common word used on stage or in performing arts to saying or executing something without any preparation. By improvising in a show, you manage to save yourself (and the show) by just moving on and coming up with something to keep going.
In most cases where we feel the lack of confidence or the inability to handle a certain situation, it is by using improvisation that can help us get back to our feet.
What did I learn from this book aside from the reminders on the basics of conversation? I learned techniques (some of them, I already know while some others, I thought was inappropriate) that I realized can be so awfully useful in our day-to-day conversations, if we only try!
#1. Always respond with an open mind
It’s always easy to say we keep an open mind when in a conversation because most of the time, we do this with our family and friends and not enemies.
What makes this difficult is when you have a different point of view. This is where the challenge appears. How in the world can you agree when you do not? In many cases of our conversations, when the topics we like get into the picture and they happen to be a debated subject, our hot buttons are pushed. We start talking continuously even to the extent of expressing extreme objections or counter-arguments. Sooner or later, the conversation becomes heated up or there is sudden silence. We lose sight of the objective we want sitting down to talk – to bond, to catch up and to re-connect.
Everybody needs and wants appreciation and acknowledgement. Patrick King recommends using “Yes, and…” kind of approach to responding to the person you are talking to. The “yes” implies an acknowledgment of their statement and continuing to further that supports the sincerity of your statement. To keep the positive vibes, you carry on citing a different angle of the same topic.
For example, if someone starts a topic on the benefits of cooking healthy food and you happen to indulge in the opposite, you do not need to spoil the discussion by immediately saying “I hate it!” or “They’re all bland!” Instead, you can support it by a different route such as “Incidentally, this new restaurant across the street offers these kinds of healthy food” or finding something interesting in the topic no matter how small it is, “That sweet sugarless cake probably works for me”
#2. Be affected and show reaction
By showing a certain level of emotion, you are showing interest and engagement in the person which shows how important that person is. But here’s the tricky part- not everyone is endowed with natural flair of emotions that shows in the face, in the tone of voice or in the body language.
What I learned in the theatre is to exaggerate a bit your emotions in order to make it obvious. Unlike the movies where your face can be on a close up to show your emotions, on stage, it is different. The nearest person in the audience is probably 2 meters away from the stage. And so you have to clearly and visibly make your reaction clear.
For many of us who are introverted or shy or the combination, emotional reactions do not appear obvious. Admit it or not, most of us have learned how to be poker-faced in order to hide our emotions because we are too shy to show or express them.
Patrick suggests showing grand expressions of anger or happiness, laughing out loud, a tap on the table kind of expressions. Add a bit of drama to it. Without reaching the level of over-reaction, balance the tone and emotion accordingly. The rule is to go beyond your usual cold or lazy expressions.
#3. Use leading questions or statements
Remember that moment when someone asks you “How was your weekend?” and you did not even notice it went on? You suddenly find yourself speechless and tried to catch up by saying “Oh it was great!” and there you had to make a story to justify your answer.
Leaving an open-ended question turns out to be a bad idea. So we thought a close-ended question (something that can be answered predictably such as yes or no), can kill the conversation because it stops right there. We are probably wrong.
Open-ends can be a burden to people because you are asking them to give you an answer that is either boring – maybe a one-word answer- or a great, classic one. You are asking them to dig deep and make an effort in your hope to have a colorful conversation. Further on, some people may not necessarily be naturally talkative or open and therefore by asking a question that has a broad spectrum to answer from, people may be a little careful to answer.
And since our purpose is to have an enjoyable chat, we want the conversation to be effortless especially on the part of the other person. Hence, you offer a close-ended question that suggests or leads to specific answers. Instead of asking “How was your weekend?” it’s better to ask “Did you watch this movie that opened over the weekend?” or if you know the person’s hobby or past-time, “Did you do go for a swim last weekend?”
This can make the conversation flow easily and from there it can lead to another.
#4. Don’t be afraid to provide specific details as if you’re telling a story
This hits me big time. And this is probably true to many of you. Oftentimes we are too quick to make any of our statements being afraid of being in the limelight especially when a lot of people are listening to us.
A great conversation is never enjoyable without the details- those that make people see, feel and understand what you are trying to convey. And remember that our aim is not just to inform but to entertain. Hence, we need some story-telling skills to do this.
Our levels of skill when it comes to story-telling are different. My wife tells a story in a suspense mode – she starts with all the background, looks at you to see if you are paying attention and will keep the punchline in the end. On one hand, I am usually fact-based announcer just talking about the gist of the story starting to general to specific (as necessary).
Patrick points out the rules of story-telling whereby putting your listener’s into the specific place where the story is happening, engage them with the pace and most importantly see their reactions. By observing on the person you are talking to, you are able to direct your story where the person can be interested or keen on and therefore emphasize it.
I do a good job story-telling for my kids. But I did not realize that I can use this as well in conversations. We have been watching too many fairy tales and Disney movies that I believe most of us would have an idea how to tell a good story. We do not have to tell a legend to tell a story. We can engage in conversations like telling a story.
Improving conversations is important in relationships
Patrick’s book was a great read with nuggets of takeaways. Setting the mindset of flexibility and open mindedness, it was well supported by the specifics. I have to say that a chunk of his tactics are great lessons for the shy and the introvert who needs to get out of his way and level up on some acting and show skills in order to get more social. We do not want to force ourselves into something we are not comfortable in but the basics of social life and relationships, whether personal or professional, call for some effort to connect.
Let’s not waste those moments when we are with our loved ones, colleagues or potential customers. Keep an open mind and use these tactics to deepen relationships that can only happen when people open up, feel comfortable and have a good amount of trust.
Which part of my takeaways do you feel connected with? Which tactic do you want to add now in your next conversation? Let’s start some discussion and we’ll go a long way in our journey to a better self! Shoot me an email here and let’s start a discussion.
Check out Patrick King’s Improve Your Conversations: Think on Your Feet, Witty Banter, and Always Know What to Say with Improv Comedy Techniques on Amazon.
Photo Credits: Akuppa John Wigham