Know What To Say

face to face optical illusion
Know what to say to people beforehand and you won’t be stuck with nothing to say.

It may seem like an overwhelming obstacle to start a conversation with someone you don’t know. Besides feeling awkward about it and fearing getting a negative response, another impediment could be you just don’t know what to say.

A way to resolve not knowing what to say to people is to write a script and rehearse it before you’re actually in a social environment.

Although the actual conversation later on won’t go exactly like the script, at least you’ll have some idea of what you might say and how to say it. You’ll have more self-knowledge of how you come across, which makes you feel more confident.

As international speaker Anthony Iannarino says, “Rehearsing by actually saying the words out loud improves your confidence even more. Saying the words out loud gives you the opportunity to feel what it’s like to say the words.”

You can have a partner rehearse the conversation with you or play both roles yourself.

Isn’t Such Preparation Overthinking?

people having a conversation
Preparing what to say can also prevent feeling left out in a group.

The answer to whether you’re overthinking if you write a script and rehearse it is NO.

After all, if you think to yourself “I don’t know what to say” a lot, then it goes without saying that to break that pattern, you need to think about what to say BEFOREHAND.

It may feel strange to write a script and rehearse a hypothetical conversation aloud. But it will feel even stranger if you don’t prepare and wind up having nothing to say, though you’d prefer to be more talkative.

So if not knowing what to say has happened time and time again, it’s time to break this pattern.

Start knowing what to say by doing “homework” beforehand.

The 3 W’s–Where, Who, and What

people in Manhattan having conversation
Deciding where you’ll start a conversation is the first step.

The first step is to decide WHERE you’ll start a conversation with someone.

If you’re in school or have a job where you’re around people, then you could start a conversation there.

Somewhere that you generally have to wait in line such as the post office or grocery store checkout are other alternative places to start a conversation.

Or maybe striking up a conversation with a barista at a cafe or a waiter at a restaurant seems more appealing and easier?

Going to a movie theater or museum or outdoor fair or farmer’s market are some other alternatives where you can strike up a conversation.

There are other alternative places, but these are just some ideas.

The second step is to think about WHO you’ll talk to at the place you’re going.

For example, if you’re going to the movie theater, you might talk to someone else who’s waiting in line to buy a ticket or to the ticket seller.

The third step is to think about WHAT you’ll talk about.

Brainstorm a a couple of topics for conversation suitable for the situation.

Going back to the example of being at the movie theater, some topics could be making an observation about the theater building, reviews you’ve read about the movie, an opinion about movies in general or about an actor or director, etc.

Grab A Pen And Paper

notebook and pen
You may want to get a notebook and use it just for writing scripts.

Now that you’ve got a couple of topics, the fourth step is to take a topic or two and write a short script.

The following is an example of a script I’ve written for the next time I go to Paramount Theater which has a Classic Movie Night. The topic is how I think it’s great that it’s just $5 for admission and how I prefer old classic movies to new movies.

I just used my imagination in terms of how the conversation might go.

Me: It’s nice that the movie ticket is only $5. It’s a good deal.

Other person waiting in line: Yes.

Me: I also prefer classic movies to new ones. What about you?

Other person: I don’t know, some old, some new. It depends.

Me: (pause) Since the movie is only $5, I think I’ll buy a drink. I think they sell wine here, don’t they?

Other person: Yes, they do.

Me: Do they sell wine at other movie theaters? I’ve never noticed.

Other person: Not usually. Do you generally drink?

Me: I enjoy drinking wine sometimes. I don’t drink to try to get drunk, though. (pause) Actually, my parents had a Chinese restaurant and bar, which turned into a discotheque and bar and they served cocktails.

Other person: That’s interesting….Excuse me, I’ve got to buy a ticket.

If you’ve ever wanted to be a screenwriter, here’s your chance. It’s like writing dialogue for a screenplay.

Time To Act It Out

The fifth and final step is to role play using the script.

As mentioned before, you can rehearse the script aloud either by yourself or else act out the script with a partner.

fancy chairs
You can use props to make it feel more realistic to the real situation to come.

Depending on the situation, whether you’ll be sitting or standing, either grab a couple of chairs to sit on or remain standing.

The point is to role play it so that it has some verisimilitude.

During rehearsal, note your body language including gestures and whether the way you carry yourself makes you feel more confident or less so, making sure your presentation contribute to self-confidence.

Also, practice vocal intonations that are assertive instead of mumbling.

Practice in front of a mirror if it helps you figure out what works.

Don’t worry about smiling, as you don’t want to have an unnatural smile. Rather, a smile will naturally emanate if you feel confident and have a friendly attitude.

Role play the script two or three times, just like an actor would rehearse a character a number of times. During the second and third times, you’ll get more and more used to expressing yourself while role playing and can practice modulating your voice.

As for me, the first time I “performed” the script, I imagined the other person giving me a strange look when I “initiated the conversation.” However, after rehearsing a few more times, my imagination became positive and I felt good about how I was expressing myself while I role played my role.

Doing This Is Normal

In case you still think preparing conversation is weird, this is what Peter Desberg, Ph.D, author of Speaking Scared Sounding Good: Public Speaking For the Private Person has to say: “Quite often the stress of being in a new social situation can feel overwhelming. It will be much easier to cope with if you have some dialogue prepared in advance. You can do this by paying attention to current events, learning a few funny jokes, or preparing a little lecture on the more interesting aspects of your work or hobby.”

6 Replies to “Know What To Say

  1. I never used to be a very sociable person and now I find that I am a lot more than I used to be. I like your example of at the movies. Role playing is a good way to practice. I do the same kind of thing sometimes and the conversation starts to carry on. It’s a good idea to rehearse. For me, I’m fairly quick witted so I use that to start a conversation sometimes.

    1. Glad you like my at the movies scenario, Rob. I felt like a scriptwriter writing that and even had fun. lol

      Right, have to do whatever works. Just like for public speaking, one prepares beforehand (although one may also speak off the cuff).

      Being quick-witted is helpful, and so is lightening up.

  2. Wow. I haven’t thought of this before to be honest. I must say it was quite an opener. Perhaps because I’m such an impulsive person by heart, I just spurt words out when I have them, (If I confirm its ok to say) But preparing before a situation, is great training. After all, it can improve skills such as presenting, marketing and socializing in general. Communication is the key to a lot!

    And so, I thank you for sharing! 🙂

    1. Hi Livia, yes, it’s nice to be spontaneous, but sometimes or for some people, one may be tongue-tied or simply wonder what to say if one isn’t naturally very sociable. In that case, preparing for even everyday situations helps just like if one were to prepare for a public speech. Yes, and this method can be helpful for presenting and marketing and talking on the phone. Whatever works!

  3. What an interesting article!

    I used to always be petrified and just downright awkward when it came to making conversations. Your technique is something I never tried but I can imagine it being effective!

    I got to the stage where I was just fed up of the awkwardness so I made a habit of just making conversation about any random little thing – from the news last night to my brother’s next cricket match.

    I’m really good at it now and I would say 9/10 it’s effective. Occasionally, people don’t appreciate it but you just need to smile and move on 🙂

    1. Thanks, Stephen.

      Yes, you can throw out anything, any random little thing, in a conversation, which is what makes it interesting. 

      I myself am not a naturally loquacious person, even though I’m naturally eloquent when I do talk. I guess we all have our strengths and weaknesses. So thinking about it and sometimes even writing a “script” and rehearsing it helps to develop some confidence or idea of what to say; otherwise, I wind up saying nothing.

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