Speaking is critical for human interaction.
Body language is critical, and incorporates many small, well-timed elements.
Your choice of words and tone are just as important as what you say.
Listening is the most important communication skill, especially active listening.
- Listening makes people feel important.
- It requires paying close attention.
- Good listening requires responding well.
- Ask questions to show interest.
Shift subjects graciously.
Match your conversation style to the physical environment you’re in and who you’re speaking with.
Learn to develop a sense of humor.
Small talk is the means to “test” people without any risk, and consists of many tiny details.
Focus most heavily on your first and last impressions with others, since that’s what they remember the most.
Expertly navigate social engagements to build rapport with others.
Ask and receive favors correctly.
Public speaking requires knowing how to expertly control a discourse.
Learning another language requires experience with it and deliberate memory training.
Why learn speaking?
Speaking is one of the most critical skills for human interaction:
The art of communicating is less about being understood and more about not being misunderstood.
Speaking has many inter-related dynamics, but comes mostly through body language:
- 55% body language
- 38% the way words are stated
- 7% actual words
The only way to become an effective speaker is through constant practice, in-person, with many varieties of people:
People create their first impression from your body language when they first see you:
- 80% of their judgment of you comes from the first 10 seconds of seeing you.
- Give a confident smile, great posture, and a direct gaze.
Most body language is subconscious:
- Be authentic, since you can’t fake happiness.
- To change nonverbal language, you must change your identity and not merely your actions, which starts with self-awareness.
- Each body language style comes strictly from personality.
- Copy your feelings naturally to your body and learn to move freely.
- Always turn your entire body to whoever you’re speaking to.
- Imagine how valuable that person is (or can be) and fully focus on that, and your body language will reflect that openness.
- When you act as though you like someone, you’ll often earn their respect and build a bond.
Your body will clarify your words:
- Your body language communicates a contextual story about your attitude, involvement, and feelings.
- Since they’re your feelings, don’t try to imitate other speakers.
Avoid tense or jittery movements:
- Even when you have an itch or discomfort, severely limit how much you move your body in small ways.
- Don’t rock, sway or pace unintentionally.
- Try to avoid small, distracting quirks:
- Gripping or leaning on things around you
- Biting or licking your lips
- Tapping your fingers
- Playing with something in your pockets
- Adjusting your hair or clothing
- Turning your head or eyes rhythmically from side to side
- Fidgeting or fiddling with yourself or an object
Maintain a strong posture:
- Stand up straight with your arms open, not crossed.
- Sit and stand with your back upright and chin up.
- When possible, directly face the person you’re talking to.
- Very slightly lean forward into the person you’re talking with.
- Since it communicates that you’re distracted, don’t use technology when you speak.
- Hold an open stance with your palms generally facing outward.
Maintain eye contact appropriately:
- Eye contact builds a connection with the other person that can relieve stress for both of you.
- By watching their visual feedback, you can adapt your message’s tone more easily.
- Don’t glance around the room.
- At the same time, don’t directly stare:
- Cycle a triangle from the left eye to the right eye to the nose and back.
- Engaged listeners will spiral their eye movements inward slowly from farther out.
- To stay focused when you’re distacted, count how many times they blink.
- When breaking eye contact, do it slowly and somewhat reluctantly.
- If you want to demonstrate extreme interest in someone, keep looking at that person even when other people are speaking or drawing attention.
- Even if you’re talking with a group or a crowd, maintain eye contact:
- Your eyes are communicating that you’re talking with them.
- Even while speaking publicly, no direct eye contact will make you seem insincere.
- If you’re too nervous to focus on one person at a time, scan across the room.
- The purpose of smiling isn’t because you’re happy, but to communicate that to others.
- When greeting people smile a little, then look at their face for a second, then give a bright and responsive smile.
- An authentic smile is valuable, but only appears genuine if you delay it for a second:
- Think of something funny.
- Think of someone you like/love.
- Practice in the mirror beforehand.
- Squint while you smile.
- You should have crow’s feet at the sides of your eyes.
- For a smile to be genuine, give a different and unique smile for each person, with the biggest smiles going to people you find most important.
Note your facial expressions:
- Even in front of a crowd, everyone tracks your face to see how you feel.
- Connect with others using consistent facial expressions.
- Smile as often as the situation permits, but openly express other feelings as appropriate.
- If you have any distracting facial mannerisms or tics, try to subdue them.
- Nod your head to acknowledge that you hear or agree.
Respond to their expressions:
- We make a subconscious half-second reaction to experiences before we show what we want others to see, so don’t try to hide your feelings around perceptive people.
- Mimic others’ body language, usually a few seconds after you see it.
- Try to match the style of their body language: flamboyant, classy, young, trashy, fast, jerky, whatever.
- Tilt your head to show sympathy.
Use touch appropriately:
- While cultures vary, closer interactions usually involve more touching.
- Healthy touch communicates connection and support.
- Too much touching can upset people and provoke them to enforce boundaries.
- Too little touching can make people feel you’re alienating them, and they’ll distrust you.
Practice effective gestures:
- Gestures are visual aids for what you’re saying.
- When we’re comfortable, we naturally gesture to emphasize ourselves.
- Keep your hands open and arms limber.
- Mind your limitations (walls, other people, objects near you, boundaries of a stage).
- Point your feet toward the person you’re speaking to.
- Make the movements vigorous, slow, and broad.
- Scale up your gestures as the size of who you’re speaking to increases (near your body one-on-one, entire body to a crowd).
- With enough energy, you can make boring subjects interesting.
- However, don’t let your energy interfere with what you’re trying to say.
- If you’re nervous, gestures are an excellent emotional outlet.
- Every gesture cycles through 3 phases:
- The Approach – the body prepares to move
- The Stroke – the body moves
- The Return – the body comes back to a balanced posture
- Pay attention to the type of gesture you’re making:
- Descriptive gestures clarify or enhance your message.
- They help people understand comparisons by a visual example of size, shape, movement, location, function, and numbers.
- Emphatic gestures show your convictions for your statement.
- A clenched fist, for example, implies a strong feeling like anger or determination.
- Suggestive gestures are symbols of ideas and feelings.
- They can help elicit a mood or express a thought.
- Open palms usually suggest giving or receiving.
- Shrugging usually indicates ignorance, confusion or irony.
- Prompting gestures are drawing a response from the listener.
- It’s usually showing what they should do, such as a high-five or applauding.
- Descriptive gestures clarify or enhance your message.
- Don’t repetitively perform any small gestures or they’ll be distracting.
Choose your words and tone carefully
Language is symbolic, so people connects words to indirect meanings.
People build on their first impression from your words and tone:
- Fortunately, people pick up on how you’re speaking more than what you say, so don’t be too concerned about saying anything interesting.
- Closely observe how you talking, as if a stranger saw you talking but couldn’t discern much of what you’re saying.
- Speak in such a way that you feel the ground under your feet.
- Your vocabulary and style of speaking gives credibility and status.
- Your word selection and accent state an identity.
- You can adapt styles to connect with specific groups, but accents stick with someone for decades.
- Your voice should sound smooth and pleasant, which can be trained.
- Clear articulation not only shows authority, but also gives listeners an easier experience understanding you.
- People will follow you proportionally to how little you say, so cut back how much you speak.
Frame your ideas with the Minto Pyramid:
- Start with the conclusion of your idea.
- Emphasize key points that lead to that conclusion.
- Fill in as much detail as the other people may want or need.
If you’re indicating any problem, focus on the point of what you’re saying first:
- Facts – give plain information without any adjectives, adverbs, or modifiers (e.g., My car has broken down).
- Status – explain plainly how those facts affect the situation (e.g., I will need a ride home).
- Next Steps – indicate a solution to the problem (e.g., I may be able to get my friend to tow my car.
- Explanation – go into why you introduced the Facts (e.g., I was driving down the road when the car made a weird noise, then it stopped running and I had to roll off the road.
Always give a solution with every problem you communicate:
- The solution doesn’t have to be good, but it has to be attainable.
- Without communicating a solution, you’re simply complaining.
Our specific choice of words create implications:
- Hedges say something indirectly.
- Polite forms of statements minimize the severity of bad things.
- Leading questions (e.g., “you’re not hungry, are you?”) can passively guide an idea.
- Disclaimers apologize for something in advance.
- Discriminatory language classifies a group as better or worse.
- While most words cover a broad range of possible feelings others may have, some carry extreme, deep universal feelings (e.g., poison, death, joy).
- Avoid any “filler” sounds (ah, um, er, etc.) and sounds that don’t translate into words.
- Avoid any repetitive phrases that pad out what we’re saying instead of permitting a second of silence.
Use strong adjectives and metaphors:
- Make historical or cultural comparisons.
- Compare and contrast to show differences and similarities.
- Avoid clichès and overused statements.
Our tone transforms the feelings we express:
- Almost every feeling can be expressed through timing a variety of softness and harshness.
- Try to convey a positive attitude through your tone.
- While speaking from the nose or throat conveys weakness, speaking from the chest expresses the most authority.
- Vary your tone up and down to stay interesting:
- A monotone is inherently uninteresting, so vary your tone frequently.
- Avoid intoning upward at the end, since it makes the sentence sound like a question.
Inflections and emphasis on spoken words transform the idea far more than writing:
- I was born in Australia – implies a comparison that presumes the listener was born somewhere else
- I was born in Australia – implies offense that someone is denying a fact
- I was born in Australia – declares country of origin as opposed to being in Australia later in life
- I was born in Australia – as opposed to outside Australia
- I was born in Australia – as opposed to somewhere nearby like New Zealand
- I was born in Australia – indicates anger and conflict.
Watch your speed and pacing:
- Speak clearly and intentionally to avoid confusion.
- Rhythmic speaking helps people anticipate the flow of words.
- Slow speaking bores people, but they may lose you if you speak too quickly.
- Pauses and silence can either emphasize an idea or make people feel extremely awkward.
- Most people stumble over their words, so don’t draw attention to it by apologizing.
- Slow down on final points and let pauses persist for the idea to settle.
- If you have a ton of information to get through, speak quickly.
Note how loudly you speak:
- In normal conversation, match your volume with those around you.
- People can’t hear you if you speak too softly, especially with background noise.
- If you speak too loudly, people will often feel offended and overwhelmed.
- Loudly speaking excites and energizes people, but people get accustomed to frequent loudness.
- Softly speaking makes people pay close attention.
- Draw them in with soft words, then deliver your point loudly.
Manage how you communicate over the phone:
- Use a professional and distant voice when picking up the phone, then adapt to a warm disposition after you hear their voice.
- Avoid breathing into the speaker.
- Since people pay attention proportionally to the quality of the audio, use as high-quality a microphone as possible.
- To compensate for the physical/emotional distance, use a person’s name more frequently than you would in-person.
- To sound more interesting, convert your expressions and body language (e.g, nodding, feelings) into spoken words, then magnify what you’re saying.
- Make sure to smile, since your smile will change how you speak enough that others can detect it.
- If you keep calling for someone who has a front-desk person pre-screen the calls, become acquainted with that front-desk person after a few calls.
- Record all your conversations and play them back to see if there’s anything you missed or could improve on.
Make sure your discourse in voicemails is clear:
- Treat each voicemail as a 10-second performance.
- Speak slowly to ensure they will understand you.
- Immediately identify yourself and a callback number for them to quickly rehear it when they replay it.
- Always address 1-2 topics per voice message that describes the purpose of the message, not just your name and number.
- State your main point by the third sentence, and be specific.
- Tell them the best time to call back, record it in your calendar as an appointment, and answer immediately to avoid “phone tag”.
- The message should be under sixty seconds, so re-record (press #) if the message isn’t brief, starts rambling or you made a mistake.
- Leave your phone number again at the end for them to confirm or write it down without replaying.
- Only leave one message, no more than that.
- Only mark it as “urgent” or try calling back if it is an emergency.
- To appear conscientious and reliable in your voicemail:
- Leave a short, professional, and friendly greeting.
- It doesn’t have to be perfect, since a little imperfection makes it relatable.
- Change it very frequently (once every day or week).
Avoid poor language
Avoid slang, tradespeak, and figures of speech:
- Your message has a wider reach if anyone can understand it.
- Elaborate words make you look pretentious, not intelligent.
- It takes courage to use plain words.
Avoid anything unintentionally offensive:
- Avoid insults, sarcasm, condescension, and insincere flattery.
- You may lose the audience with a reference or joke to race, religion or anything else the audience values.
- Don’t adapt or distort the truth, especially if it’s clear to the listener.
Many words and phrases imply you’re unintelligent or uneducated:
- One poor choice of words can ravage a well-built impression.
- Often, a few inappropriate statements are the only difference between the privileged and underclass.
- Spend a day around a crowd of people in a particular social group to get 80% of their jargon and communication style.
- Ask a friend in that community to tell you about the current events in that group and give you a few opening questions.
- Use a thesaurus to learn more articulate words for your most frequently overused words (e.g., nice, good, pretty).
Use “I” sentences much more than “you”:
- “You” statements imply blame:
- “You don’t listen to me.”
- “What you did hurt me.”
- “You’re doing this again.”
- “I” statements imply personal responsibility:
- “I don’t feel you’re listening.”
- “I am hurt at what you did.”
- “I don’t like what we are doing.”
- “We” statements are a healthy middle that shares commitment with the group (but only if they agree):
- “We should resolve this.”
- “We can’t let this continue.”
- “We will get past this.”
Avoid words that don’t exist:
- Aks someone – “ask someone”
- Alot – “a lot”
- Conversating – “conversing”
- Expresso – “espresso”
- Irregardless – “regardless”
- Leadway – “leeway”
- Momento – “memento”
- The feeble position – “the fetal position”
- Sorta – “sort of”
- Unphased – “unfazed”
- You guyses opinion – “your opinion, guys”
Avoid poor grammar:
- Anyways – say “anyway”
- Doing good – “doing well”
- Extract revenge – “exact revenge”
- Hone in – “home in”
- Old Timer’s Disease – “Alzheimer’s Disease”
- On accident – “by accident”
- Scotch-free – “Scot-free”
Use frequent figures of speech lightly, but make sure they make sense:
- Each one worse than the next – “each one worse than the last”
- For all intensive purposes – “for all intents and purposes”
- I could care less – “I couldn’t care less”
- Made a 360 degree turn – “made a 180 degree turn”
- Nip it in the butt – “nip it in the bud”
- One in the same – “one and the same”
- Statue of limitations – “statute of limitations”
- You’ve got another think coming – “you’ve got another thing coming”
If you wish to use a new phrase or word, do your research:
- Find out the context of the phrase, its meaning, and its proper use.
Unless you want to be vague, use the most specific phrasing possible:
- Use numbers when possible, and approximations when you’re not sure (e.g., “about 13”).
- Use “couple” to refer to 2-3, “few” and “several” to refer to more.
- Say “some” or “most”, but only in relationship to a demonstrably larger amount.
When you catch yourself speaking incorrectly or someone corrects you, own up to it and make a joke of it.
Listening is critical
People respond better to great listeners than great speakers who don’t listen:
- Everyone understands reality differently, and listening is how we understand those differences.
- By listening, you’re telling that person they’re important or, at least, their words are important.
- Even if you’re an awful speaker, people will still listen back out of respect if you were listening to them.
- Good listening can restart a stopped story or fill in gaps you may have misunderstood.
Great communicators master listening:
- They listen to understand, not just to reply.
- Great responses make the speaker feel it was their idea.
- Good listening provokes more discussion with appropriately timed silence.
- Great listening requires restraint against saying poorly worded ideas that may communicate the wrong message or ignores the audience.
- People tend to have a biased “conversational generosity” about how much they’re dominating the dynamic:
- The speaker talking 50% of the time feels like 70% to the listener.
- 20% feels like 30%.
- 1% feels like 5%.
- Thus, only talk 1/3 or less of the time to make it feel like you talked half the time.
Listening isn’t just hearing words or agreeing
By listening, we understand the other person’s point of view and ourselves in it:
- Audibly hear words and related body language.
- Focus on the speaker’s intended message.
- Perceive and connect the speaker’s feelings behind the ideas.
- Understand the ideas’ full meaning through feelings and reasoning.
- Apply the message’s meaning as a listener hearing it.
- Remember the speaker’s other messages.
- Respond with appropriate feelings and expressions.
- Patiently keep listening and processing the listener.
Listening comes in degrees:
- Completely ignoring
- Pretending to listen
- Selective listening: only hearing chunks of information and guessing the rest
- Informative listening: processing information without feelings
- Appreciative listening: responding to and making nonverbal cues
- Intuitive listening: using wisdom to interpret hidden meanings beyond the speaker’s stated ideas
Make them important
Always pay attention to the speaker:
- Treat their words as more important than yours.
- Focus more on their interests, not yours.
- Avoid multitasking or hastiness.
- If you can’t listen at the moment, openly clarify when you want to talk.
- Observe nonverbal cues that show their feelings and echo with nonverbal affirmations.
Stay focused on them:
- To successfully make that person important, you must be curious about something regarding them or their lives.
- People are hypersensitive to insincerity (and your body language gives it away), so you can’t imitate your way through it.
- Listen more than you talk.
- Enter as deeply as you can possibly into how they understand the world.
- When sharing, only give information you expect they’ll care about.
- If you fail at understanding others, you likely are battling self-deception.
As much as possible, remember names:
- In their mind, a person’s name is the most recognizable word they know.
- People feel valuable to you if you’ve remembered their name.
Take an interest in their interests:
- Keep the topics focused on what they want, then bridge your shared interests over.
- Once you find something they like that you also like, you can easily let your curiosity take over.
- On your own time, read a few magazines or skim the internet about what they like.
How to listen
Avoid any prejudice or bias:
- Accept what they say, and don’t attach your own opinions to it.
- Consider any pre-existing views and expectations.
- Every story has at least two sides, so stay open to the opposite view.
- Don’t act until you’ve heard and considered the whole story.
- People prefer extreme opinions over no opinion, so take the majority opinion if you don’t have one.
- If you start feeling irritated or angry, try to postpone the conversation:
- Openly admit your feelings with them.
- Postpone the conversation until you’re calmer.
Passive listening is the easiest way to listen:
- Stay attentive, stay silent, give nonverbal feedback like nodding, copying body language, and changing posture.
- Don’t provide input or suggestions.
- Keep yourself focused on the person, irrespective of your environment.
Active listening, on the other hand, requires much more effort:
- Reflect their statement back to them.
- You’re acknowledging their feelings, not necessarily the facts.
- Use phrases and supportive sounds such as “yes”, “go on”, “mm”, “ah”, and “okay”.
- After they’ve finished, wait a few seconds silently to make they’re finished.
- Silence isn’t awkward if you show you’re genuinely thinking about what they said.
- Always begin your response by repeating or paraphrasing what they said.
- Be concise and unbiased, without added commentary or presumption.
- Ask if you understood something correctly, state what you think they said, and prepare for them to correct you.
- Since people are hypersensitive to rejection, you must legitimately want to understand them.
- Ask for clarification on anything vague.
- Use open, unassuming questions.
- You’re trying to understand, not lead them to what you think.
- Ask for specific examples.
- Keep them on track to their central point.
- It’s very easy to get distracted on another topic, so steer the conversation back to their chosen topic.
- If something is important to them, you are holding them accountable to their standards by staying on-topic.
Listen carefully for others’ observations, feelings, needs, and requests:
- Many things people say are trying to fulfill some sort of purpose:
- “I noticed [observation], which makes me feel [feeling]. I need [need], and I’d like you to [request].”
- An evaluation is a value you’ve come to conclude, often subconsciously (e.g., a “cook”, as opposed to “someone cooking“).
- People often state evaluations as observations (e.g., “You’re being rude”).
- Treat their observations as valid, even if they’re only implying it behind what they’re feeling or come from a bad evaluation.
- Learn to ignore their feelings and observe what they’re observing, then go back around and experience their feelings while ignoring what they’re observing.
- People often don’t state their needs as much as their requests (e.g., “Stop doing that”).
How to respond
- You must interrupt when you’ve heard 1 more word than you’re comfortable hearing.
- The more you wait, the worse your feelings become.
- A speaker would prefer you interrupt them than simply pretending to listen.
- Interrupt first with body language and an auditory nonverbal (e.g., “um”), then interject with a statement of your own.
- If they don’t stop, end the conversation and revisit it later.
When they’ve finished a thought, wait at least a full second before responding:
- If you don’t, the other person will think you weren’t listening.
- You also get time to think of how to frame your first sentence.
The first sentence will be the most important:
- People pay extreme attention to the first statement you make, and are trying to judge whether you were listening or cared what they had to say.
- To avoid being misunderstood, keep your first statement extremely simple, and keep all your other statements confined to that statement.
What you say must be true, necessary, and kind:
- Your thoughts can be free to explore anything, but what you say creates profound consequences for others.
- You usually can say pretty much anything you want if you add the right qualifiers before it.
- If what you say might be untrue or controversial:
- I’m not sure if this is true, but…
- From my experience, I’ve heard that…
- Someone once told me…
- If what you say might be unnecessary:
- I know this is a tangent, but…
- There’s something unrelated I wanted to share, if you have time.
- I don’t mean to derail the conversation, but…
- If what you say might be unkind:
- I don’t mean to be blunt, but my impression is…
- I mean no disrespect, but…
- I know this may be highly controversial, but…
Don’t use clichè responses:
- Avoid mirroring statements.
- You paralyze the discussion when you mimic the other person’s words (e.g., “It’s a beautiful day!” – “Yes, it is a beautiful day!”)
- Mirroring follows social norms, but you look boring and forgettable.
- Avoid predictable responses.
- The most apparent answer is often the most boring (e.g., “It sure is hot!” – “Yeah, it sure is!”)
- If you want to sound profound, use the unexpected opposite word for a predictable situation (e.g., “It’s a great day to go for a sit!”)
- When people ask what you do for a living or where you live, give interesting facts about it instead of simply what it is.
- For anything about yourself, have an interesting story prepared for them.
- The best way to stay interesting is to keep consuming funny stories, interesting ideas, and constantly create and write in your free time.
Repeat what they said to show you’re listening:
- Paraphrase what you feel about the matter.
- Be careful, because paraphrasing how you feel isn’t acknowledging theirs.
- Expressing feelings before understanding is only useful in a conflict to prove vulnerability.
- Repeat the message with their exact words.
- Use exact repetition for a conflict or technical discussion.
- In some contexts, repeating exact words sounds condescending.
- You can usually show you were listening by ponderously repeating the last words they said.
- Repeat similar words and phrases with the same idea.
- Approximate repetition works if you don’t know how receptive they are.
- However, in a heated conflict, they’ll think you’re trying to directly quote them.
- Rephrase the message with words and phrases you use.
- By rephrasing, you show you fully understand their message.
- Skillful responses explain their opinion better than they can.
- Try to use the specific interests you know they like (e.g., if they’re into gardening then say “sowing the seeds” as a figure of speech).
- Use poetic imagery that matches whether they’re visual, auditory, or tactile (e.g., “I hear what you’re saying.”)
Clearly share observations, feelings, needs, and requests:
- Observations are actual things you see someone saying or doing (e.g., “I noticed you were talking to John earlier”).
- Don’t give your observation with any judgment or evaluation.
- People have a hard time differentiating their observations and judgments (e.g., “You seldom do what I want” versus “The last three times I initiated an activity, you said you didn’t want to do it”).
- State plainly how you feel about that observation (e.g., “That makes me sad because I thought you weren’t talking to him anymore”).
- Don’t mix together what someone does with how you feel about it.
- “I feel” statements should refer to an actual feeling (e.g., “I feel angry when you don’t tell me things” versus “I feel you don’t tell me things”).
- Most “I feel” statements are actually hidden “I think” statements.
- If you have any needs connected to it, state them plainly as well (e.g., “I need to trust you”).
- Only indicate your needs, not what you want them to do or or what they fail at.
- Give a request that will enrich your life (e.g., “It would help me immensely if you would please tell me the next time you talk with John”).
- If you interpret the possibility of their noncompliance as rejection, they’ll interpret your requests as demands.
- A request is only a demand when there’s no empathy for the effort the listener will have to make.
- Intellectual understanding blocks empathy.
- Ask them to reflect back your words.
- Make sure they don’t feel like you’re testing their listening skills, but that you need to know that you’ve expressed yourself clearly.
Practice the pacing of your words:
- Develop a rhythmic style to how you speak.
- If you need to, speak more slowly to evenly flow your thoughts out.
- When you can, use smaller words to get the idea across.
- For larger sentences, try to pause on every even-numbered set of syllables (e.g., “I think, after this trip, we should rest.” versus “I think after this trip we should rest.”
Don’t break the flow of conversation:
- Even if you’re terrified, learn to appear confident and comfortable.
- If you look anxious, you’ll make them feel anxious.
- Try not to string thoughts together.
- Slamming ideas together doesn’t give a chance for the listener to speak or think.
- Give ideas one at a time and let them control the conversation more, even when they string together thoughts.
- Inform them when you’ve changed your mind.
- Watch their attention carefully and shift the subject if they start looking bored or make shorter responses than you.
Take your time responding to what they like:
- If you like it as well, let them talk about it a bit before letting them know you like it as well.
- When you don’t like it, either respond with a portion of something you do like, or try to shift the subject.
Thank them clearly with observations, feelings, and needs:
- They’ve obviously done something to benefit you, so make sure they see the fullest extent of it.
- Observe the action they did, how it made you feel, and the need it satisfied.
- e.g., “I noticed you cleaned the room, which made me feel at ease. I need a clean workspace, so you helped me immensely.”
Statements shut down the conversation, and questions open more dialogue:
- Make statements related to what they said, then ask for their input about it.
- If you share personal experiences and anecdotes, explain why you’re sharing it.
- If you’re uncertain if they want to hear your anecdote, ask that question before you start.
- When you have a good feeling about what they like, boldly use “you” statements to communicate what they may enjoy.
Your questions should provoke them to talk more:
- They should be talking more than you.
- Make a simple statement about the event or location, then connect it to an open-ended question.
- The most common question is “what do you do?” but a more interesting variation is “what do you like to do?”
- Keep asking questions about their life.
- If they ask you about your life, keep their interests in mind as you share.
- Don’t be afraid to ask seemingly dumb questions in a group, since most people are already thinking it.
The scope of your questions determines where the conversation goes:
- Open questions encourage people to open up.
- They often start with why, what, where, which, and how.
- e.g., How was that strategy useful? What did you do then? Which approach did you use? How did you feel after that?
- Use open questions unless you need certainty.
- Closed questions require a specific answer.
- The can start with did you, will you, have you, who or when.
- They often make conversations feel awkward and one-sided to the other person, so use them sparingly.
When you can, ask questions to fill in the gaps of what you don’t understand:
- Fill in the observations, feelings, needs, and requests that you do understand:
- e.g., “You’re a jerk!” becomes “I noticed [observation?], which makes me feel angry. I need [need?], and I’d like you to [not be a jerk?].”
- State your questions as its own need:
- e.g., “I understand you’re angry, which makes me confused. Since I need to understand where you’re coming from, why are you angry?”
- When people express extremely emotional messages, they appreciate when you reflect your feelings back to them.
Frame your questions carefully:
- Probing questions try to clarify a previous statement or get more detail:
- e.g., Why do you think that happened? What does that mean? Can you be more specific?
- While probing questions can build rapport, people feel interrogated with too many of them.
- Leading questions imply there’s a “right” answer:
- e.g., So wouldn’t it have been better to…? Don’t you think you should have…?
- They often appear judgmental, so use them carefully.
- Negative questions are specific statements followed with a confirm-or-deny question:
Many questions are designed to clarify understanding:
- Control questions determine a baseline behavior because you already know the answer:
- When used wrongly, people consider control questions insulting because it implies distrust.
- Any question can be insulting if the responder believes the speaker knows the answer, including ones that show the speaker wasn’t listening!
- Reflective questions check and clarify understanding:
- e.g., “I feel frustrated with the situation.” “Why does the situation frustrate you?”
- Reflective questions let the speaker explore their knowledge of something more.
- Repeating or persistent questions ask several questions for the same information or the same question for different details:
- Repeating or persistent questions can cross-check information but can’t verify truth.
- If someone catches a repetition, they’ll usually feel offended because they won’t feel that person was listening.
Some questions make people think or relax:
- Hypothetical questions ask how a possible situation would provoke someone to act or think:
- e.g., What would you do if…? What would happen if…?
- Hypothetical questions give people a chance to discuss new ideas or approaches and brainstorm.
- A hypothetical question with incorrect body language will feel like a leading question.
- Unrelated questions make others more comfortable or destabilize their train of thought:
- Unrelated questions shift the subject or to throw people off.
- Since people will usually draw from context to resolve their confusion, use unrelated questions carefully.
- Many cultural differences will make a person feel a question is unrelated.
- Paraphrasing questions confirm you understand what they said:
- e.g., “I hear you say that (your paraphrase). Do I understand that correctly?”
- Paraphrasing questions keep the conversation focused and show you’ve been listening closely.
Some questions are never good to ask:
- Vague questions:
- e.g., “Why is that?”, “Is it always this way?”, “Does that matter?”
- Responders don’t know how to answer vague questions.
- Carefully select your words and add more details to avoid vague questions.
- Compound questions, or asking several questions at once:
- e.g., “Who is responsible, why is it important, and what are you going to do about it?”
- Compound questions are usually impossible to answer together at the same time.
- The responder will often forget the second question once they’ve responded to the first.
- To avoid compound questions, slow down your speaking to prevent your feelings from taking advantage of you.
If you want to transition to another topic, make it interesting:
- Pay close attention to what they’re really interested in, then shift the subject to that topic whenever there’s a lull in the conversation.
- The one topic most people want to talk about is themselves.
- Explicitly clarify that you want to shift subjects or transition to a related subject:
- Speaking of [the current subject]…
- That reminds me, now that we’re talking about that…
- Instead of asking “what do you do?”, ask “how do you spend most of your time?”
- If you’re trying to keep their attention, make what you’re about to say more exciting (but only if it is):
- But wait, there’s more…
- The best part is what happened next…
If you want to continue the discussion later, agree on a time or place with them.
When you accidentally offend, apologize and leave:
- You can’t back out of an offense because they must forgive you for it in their own time.
- The best thing you can do is give them time to process it and connect with other people.
- Often, if you do readdress the matter to recover your reputation, you will come across as even more offensive unless you can make yourself suffer more than them.
Leave the conversation graciously:
- Politely inform them about something else you must do.
- Find a third person, then ask the person you’re talking with to share one of their favorite anecdotes (“Tell them about that time when…”).
The conversation environment
Our message changes because of the environment:
- The reason everyone is meeting and for how long determines the conversations people want to have.
- Colors and lighting, along with the venue, will affect everyone’s mood and expectations.
- The relationship of the people to the seating arrangements communicates a story to someone listening.
- Mind how many other people are around and who they are.
- If you reference someone else not listening, don’t point at them or mention their name where they can hear you.
Maintain proper spacing:
- Intimate space is under 18 inches and only for very close friends.
- Personal space is from 18 inches to four feet and only for people you’re comfortable with.
- Social space goes out from four feet to twelve feet and for most one-on-one interaction.
- Public space is anything farther than twelve feet and usually for groups and strangers.
- We usually draw closer to others when we like them and farther when we don’t.
Keep appropriate track of time:
- People are more likely to listen in the evening, so keep your morning discussions short.
- Always keep a mental timer of how much time you have until someone has to disengage.
- When people are rushed, only share simple ideas in quick sentences.
- You can never be too brief because people can ask questions, so avoid spending more time than necessary.
- It’s relatively easy to expand ideas to accommodate time, but challenging to condense them.
- Consider how many days until upcoming national holidays, anniversaries, and annual meetings.
Stay attentive to distractions:
- People don’t listen when they’re distracted, so avoid speaking if the person is focused on something else or clearly not listening.
- A low-distraction environment isn’t always possible, so shorten your statements as needed.
- Only ask, “Is this a good time?” for emergencies (since it almost never is).
- If you must discuss something ask, “What’s a good time?”
- If you’ve stumbled into a bad time to speak, back away.
- If you say “this will only take a second”, people don’t listen.
- Since they’re obviously distracted, wait until later to reschedule the discussion.
- Distractions come from many sources:
- Any sight or sound can redirect attention.
- People become uncomfortable if they’re standing for too long.
- Any environmental discomfort like a hot day or high winds can distract.
- The venue may distract (such as taking orders in a restaurant).
- If a distraction happens, let it play out entirely, then after a few seconds of silence draw attention back to the story you were listening to (or, ideally, give the last few details of that story).
- If you’re on the phone and you hear something, tell them you hear it and ask if they want to attend to it.
Stay mindful to what you say during another person’s speech:
- When someone is speaking in public, it’s often rude to disturb the audience, talk over the speaker, or help/prompt the speaker without permission.
- Save any of your questions for the end of the speech or, if it’s a scheduled speech, after everyone else has left.
Note any power dynamics:
- Even if you don’t care about the power dynamics, most people keep a small score of everyone’s status and constantly compare their status with you.
- Further, people tend to try to “even the score” wherever they are, which often involves performing favors or asking for them, and sometimes generating conflicts.
- If you’re speaking to someone with authority, keep your responses shorter and let them talk more.
- If someone is famous, only talk about their latest work, or don’t bring it up.
- Don’t be afraid to bring someone else without as much power into the conversation affiliated with that powerful person.
- When at the entryway, ask for a powerful person by their pronoun instead of their name (“is he/she in?”) to imply that you know them personally.
Match conversation style to context
Depending on everyone’s cooperation and judgment, communication is a diatribe, dialogue or discourse:
- Discourse and diatribe are one-way exchanges:
- Discourse is when the listener is quietly cooperating, but diatribes are when the speaker is forcing the conversation.
- Most public speeches and written articles are discourse, the rest are diatribe.
- People share one-way exchanges (such as this guide here) when they want to say something important.
- Generally, discourse tries to inform while diatribe tries to convince or coerce.
- Dialogue and debate are two-way exchanges:
- Dialogue is when everyone in the conversation wants to exchange information and build relationships, which means suspending their judgment.
- The conversation switches to a debate when one person is trying to convince or coerce, but while other people can still give feedback.
- Most healthy conversations are dialogue.
- Debates usually arise over a conflict or are formally established to discuss that conflict.
In dialogue and debate, only share 1-2 ideas at a time:
- Until someone asks, provide less information.
- More ideas clutter the feelings you’re trying to convey.
- Too many ideas can confuse or convert your discussion into a diatribe.
- The easiest way to cut out extra information is to focus far more on “why” than on “what”
Consider the size of your ideas:
- because large ideas require lots of thought, they almost always require a diatribe or discourse to convey them.
- Try to simplify the idea as much as possible to get the feeling across, preferably with humor or wit.
- If you must provide more details, consider adding supporting documentation.
Adapt to the listener
Adapting a message well requires experience:
- There are way too many factors to consciously consider, so understanding your audience only comes through trial-and-error and self-reflection.
- People feel inauthentic behavior, so you will also need self-confidence that only comes from experience.
- Practice frequently with a wide variety of backgrounds to shorten how much experience you need.
Only share thoughts that interest both you and the listener:
- Talk about what you both want to discuss, or don’t talk at all.
- They won’t want to hear something uninteresting to them, but they’ll read when you find something uninteresting.
- You can often find a compromise between what you want to discuss and what they want if the information is new to them.
If someone doesn’t care to hear, you can’t convince them to listen:
- People will resent if you push past their indifference.
- Honor their boundaries and respect yourself.
Only share things other people might find meaningful (THINK acronym):
- To avoid lying or exaggeration, the ideas must be TRUE.
- The audience must find that message HELPFUL for understanding and acting.
- The message must be INSPIRING to provoke action beyond complaining or excuses.
- Only share what’s NECESSARY to them to prevent gossip.
- Make sure your message is also KIND and free of judgment or negativity.
- Since people will ask questions if they want to know more, it’s better to lean toward fewer details and less time speaking.
Consider their personality:
- Dominant, direct people hate pleasantries and small talk and want the point as quickly as possible, so learn conciseness for them.
- Engaging, friendly people can lose sight of discussion goals, so keep them on track.
- Calm, peaceful people want an even-toned casual conversation, so relax with them.
- Detail-minded, analytical people want many facts and details, so learn to analyze with them.
- If you want to engage with someone that you know wouldn’t respect you, ask someone else to introduce you.
Always use examples and anecdotes that match their background:
- Gender, sexual orientation, and marital status of people in the group.
- Disabilities or talents of individuals.
- The group’s collective accomplishments or identity.
- The ethnic and racial mix of the group.
- each person’s age or appearance.
- Occupations and hobbies of individual people.
- Religious or political affiliations of everyone.
- Geographic location of the people in the conversation.
- Other groups represented by people in that group.
- The education on various subjects and wisdom of each individual person.
Mind the audience’s attitude toward you:
- Neutral audiences are rational, though not always entirely, and prefer appeals to reasoning.
- Usually includes groups like legislatures, committees, directors, and councils.
- Will listen to facts, statistics, and specific instances.
- Won’t care as much for anecdotes, hypothetical illustrations, and analogies.
- Friendly audiences want to hear from you.
- It’s usually at a happy event like a party.
- Entertain, inspire, and inform them.
- Instead of changing their minds, help them to believe or act toward your purpose.
- Give them new reasons to do what they already want to do.
- Apathetic audiences are often forced to listen to you.
- This can include many clubs, churches, lecture groups, and business meetings.
- Use human-interest anecdotes and illustrations to arouse their attention, then keep them interested.
- They usually don’t care for facts, statistics, and proof.
- If you don’t respond to their negativity, by the end they might become a friendly audience.
- Hostile audiences don’t want to listen to you.
- To avoid making them more hostile, avoid strong arguments or emotionally charged appeals.
- Work off a common belief and only use proof that can translate into appeals the audience will listen to.
- You may not win a point, but the audience might become less hostile.
If you’re being recorded (or might be recorded), speak as if you don’t know your audience:
- While it’s very easy to communicate, it’s absurdly difficult to state things without offending someone.
- The internet permanently memorializes everything, and social fashions can often change across years, so be very careful how you word anything.
Pay careful attention to whether the culture respects asking or guessing:
- “Ask” culture is low-context, and requires the requester to plainly ask if they need something.
- It revolves around the idea that if someone needs something, they’re responsible to ask it.
- This does place a burden of the recipient saying “no”, but means nobody will have hurt feelings if they do politely decline it.
- “Guess” culture is low-context, and requires the responder to read nonverbal cues to see if the other person needs something.
- It revolves around the idea that someone else who has something should be considerate of what other people need.
- The other person is legitimately inconvenienced to serve the asker, but gives them the comfort that they were thinking about them.
- Generally, when faced with the opposite end of the spectrum, “ask” culture will be perpetually exhausted with the unspoken requests, while “guess culture” will be perpetually offended that the other person didn’t act in response to their unspoken requests.
Build a sense of humor
Humor is intimately connected to your ability to have fun.
Every funny idea has at least two of six dimensions:
- Each funny concept has at least two of the following:
- Familiarity – something someone has previously experienced
- This varies wildly across people.
- The more familiar, the less you need other dimensions.
- Cuteness – someone weak and lovable
- e.g., puppies, children, kittens, adorable animations
- They can be visual or simply have a lovable personality.
- Cruelty – something mean or unfair
- While it must hurt, it must also be unfair pain.
- At its most extreme, cruel humor is called “dark humor”.
- Bizarreness – breaking from reality
- It must be surreal, but it can’t be unbelievable because people must keep believing that it could theoretically happen.
- The simplest version of this is to imagine a world where everything is the same except for one small detail.
- Naughtiness – breaking a taboo
- Naughty things are dirty, unclean, lewd or inappropriate.
- The funnier the joke, the more you can get away with.
- Handle this dimension carefully in polite company.
- Intuitiveness – creative application of an idea
- There are many ways to creatively build humor outside what people expect.
- All you have to do is surprise people with your connection.
- Familiarity – something someone has previously experienced
If you have trouble finding humor, think of the opposites of what everyone expects, how people think or behave, or how anyone would typically react.
Do not, however, make a joke at someone else’s expense:
- If your joke is even slightly offensive, influential people will find a way to get revenge later.
If you’re not funny, it’s not as hard as it seems:
- Most professional comedians are only funny half the time.
- People remember a great joke far more than several bad ones.
- Most of the skill in delivering good humor comes in timing, which comes through practice with well-placed pacing and silence.
- To make a punchline work, don’t laugh at it.
Allow a pause for laughter unless you’re not expecting it or don’t want silence to set in.
Make an inside joke with someone by recalling a silly part of the first time you met them.
Small talk is the most frequent, necessary communication skill, even though quite a few people hate it.
While small talk is shallow, it’s critical:
- Small talk lets people “test” others in a safe environment that doesn’t offend or cross boundaries.
- People are uncomfortable with silence, and small talk is mindless information that easily fills it.
- Everyone can learn about others without having to trust people with personal information.
- People who professionally use small talk will match the tone and style of behavior they’re reading from others.
- Some of the most common “small talk only” zones are while eating, parties, and most public events.
- At the same time, the “big talk” often comes out during dessert or when the check comes, in a side discussion at a party, or after most people have left the event.
Some people always hate small talk:
- Detail-oriented people often want to discuss more in-depth about their interests.
- Philosophical people often want to discuss more profound subjects.
- Introverts may be more accustomed to silence than most people.
- Emotionally secure people tend to hate circumventing topics.
- Socially awkward people tend to face rejection and have past trauma from small talk.
- Highly successful people in non-social disciplines hate small talk because it circumvents legitimate conflicts.
Successful small talk can filter out the worst of humanity:
- Someone sharing harsh convictions, dogmatic behavior or extreme negativity in public will be more difficult in private.
- Gossips will talk poorly about other people before they learn anything about you.
- Someone who complains and blames isn’t trustworthy with responsibilities.
- A person’s exaggerations show they’re unaware how their words make others feel.
Some subjects are never, ever small talk:
- Intimate relationships and sex
- Death, morbidity, and significant medical problems
- Personal gain that outpaces anyone else’s
- Business opportunities, especially sales or small business affairs, including MLM
- Secrets, especially about others who aren’t in the conversation
- Negative comments about anything, especially about others
Depending on culture, other topics may be off-limits for small talk:
- Age and weight
- Ethnic origin
- Family or marital status
- Salary, income, financial information or money/career problems
- Politics and controversial social issues
- Sometimes you can’t criticize what others openly condemn (such as race or financial status)
- Religious views or philosophy
- The economy, the stock market or current events
- Anything that can offend someone’s nationality or criticize royalty
- Any compliments that may look like flirting
- Intimate details about love life or sex life
- Alcohol or drug consumption
- Inappropriate humor (which is highly contextual) or no sense of humor
- Obesity, which varies from a sign of health to a public shame
- Culture-contextual, it might be rude to share or not share personal details
Introduce yourself and ask about them.
Ask about their day or week.
Introduce someone you know to a new person:
- Don’t introduce someone you’ve just met unless your introduction can legitimately benefit them.
Give a compliment:
- Everyone loves legitimate, specific compliments so much that they associate positive feelings toward the people who give them.
- Every affirmation is a variation of a few statements:
- I love/appreciate you.
- I’m proud of you.
- You are important.
- You are special.
- You have worth.
- You are unique.
- You look great.
- What you’re doing matters.
- You’ve performed well.
- Try to insert compliments into the flow of the conversation as a presumed fact.
- Make your compliments incredibly specific.
- Give compliments as if you’ve heard them, not simply that you’ve observed something.
- Only compliment in a way that they can’t misunderstand your statement as insensitive, discriminatory or flirtatious.
- Only use self-effacing compliments if the person you’re talking to sees themselves as lower in social status than you.
- If someone accomplishes anything, immediately praise them.
- When you receive compliments, don’t dwell on them and simply say “thank you, that’s very kind of you.”
Ask general topics:
Compare and contrast lifestyles:
- Hobbies and interests
- Friends and shared connections
- Cultural or political differences (if you’re speaking without judgment)
Share small pieces of your personal life:
- Likes and dislikes
- Childhood aspirations
- Plans, hopes, and dreams
- Goals and accomplishments that are appropriate to the listener
Talk about things beyond the conversation:
- Current news stories, if they’re not controversial
- Other people, as long as you keep it positive
- The current situation or venue
- Holidays in the near past or future
- TV and movies
- Books and magazines
- Fashion and trends
Tell jokes or funny anecdotes.
Focus on first and last impressions
People tend to remember the first and last things the most.
People make their first impressions within 7 seconds of seeing someone:
- Whether it’s fair or accurate, their impression is the beginning of a story that determines whether they like you.
- 80% of that impression is from your posture while standing or sitting.
- Over the internet or phone, your presence is usually defined by your published content or voice instead.
Work on your image for when people see you enter a room:
Practice greeting people:
- Show you’re open and confident by greeting people first.
- Always smile when you meet someone.
- Rise to greet them if you’re sitting, even if they’re a lower social status.
- To give a warm handshake, try to keep your hands warm before greeting.
- Hold drinks in your left hand to avoid it getting cold or wet.
- Honor their cultural greeting traditions.
- In most professional environments, firmly and gently shake hands with them.
- Many cultures, such as Latin American, prefer hugging and sometimes kissing.
- Asian cultures tend to prefer bowing.
- If you’re giving a high five, look at their elbow to never miss.
- If you can, practice with a friend to get their feedback.
Take your time during introductions:
- People are usually more offended by a hasty greeting than none at all.
- Clearly and articulately state your name.
- If you’re uncertain if someone remembered your name, state it again in the flow of conversation.
- Use their name several times later in the conversation to remember it.
- Mind their response to their title, since they may be offended if you don’t use it or they may find it too formal.
- If you’re reconnecting and forgot their name, ask for it again, but clarify that you wanted their last name after they’ve given their first.
To leave gracefully, have a few exit lines ready:
- Leave after you’ve made a good impression, but before you’ve disagreed on something.
- Always thank them, and be specific about what.
- When making an excuse, find a task that you legitimately need to do or want to do to avoid offense.
- If you’re at a party, you want to meet with someone else you haven’t seen in a long time.
- While at lunch, you have some personal chores on your phone you need to do.
- When in public with someone, you have to study for something.
- If you’re pursuing success or have a family, you have many excuses to choose from.
- If someone hands you their card, accept it as a gift.
- Hold the card in both hands and read it.
- Put the card away in a shirt pocket, purse or wallet to show you value it.
Highly successful politicians and executives spend hours preparing their encounters beforehand:
- Ask your host who’s coming, then resolve to meet anyone who may interest you.
- Play out different likely scenarios in your mind, then create reasoned responses to them.
- Imagine yourself meeting people, having conversations, and how you’ll likely respond.
- While it’ll feel odd at first, it becomes easy with experience.
Find something interesting to discuss before you go:
- Find a common interest with the people you expect to meet.
- People are usually comfortable with current events, harmless stories, and culture.
- Avoid negative or controversial topics.
- Strip away excessive details.
- To let people know that you’re unique, wear something interesting or carry something interesting with you to the event.
Prepare 3-4 topics and 4 generic questions to get others talking:
- Remember details about the host, such as their passions or mutual interests.
- Read up on current events and news.
- Make questions that require a story instead of short answers.
- Questions that require answers:
- How are you?
- How was your day?
- Where are you from?
- What do you like to do?
- What’s your name?
- How was your weekend?
- Would you like a drink?
- Questions that require a story:
- What’s your story?
- What did you do today?
- What’s the strangest thing about where you grew up?
- How did you end up in your line of work?
- What was the best part of your weekend?
- Who do you think is the luckiest person in the room?
- What does that house remind you of?
- Questions that require answers:
Navigate across the venue to anyone you want to meet:
- Expert politicians can detect the important people in a room, then make many quick conversations as they navigate to those people.
- When you arrive, stand dramatically at the entrance and survey the room to find the people you want to meet and the type of atmosphere you’re walking into.
- Stay near the doorway to greet new people shortly after they arrive.
- Ask the person who invited you who someone is, then either ask for more facts (which you can use while greeting them directly) or request they introduce you.
- If you’re brave, go near the person you want to meet, then wait for any excuse to jump into the conversation with your own idea.
Stay focused on your purpose for being there:
- You’re either there to mingle and recreate, or there to build connections, but not both.
- Since a drink or food puts psychological distance with others, eat before you go
- The purpose of the engagement is to brush shoulders and leave a first impression and contact details for later with everyone who might serve a future purpose to you.
- After you’ve met everyone you wanted to meet, leave to your next event.
- Ideally, show up early and meet people as they arrive, then leave before the event is over.
- Understaying your welcome has the advantage of making you mysterious (and therefore interesting) and avoiding any potential public conflicts.
Carefully listen before entering an in-progress conversation:
- Don’t ask what everyone is talking about.
- Pay attention to see if you can follow the conversation.
- If someone else walks into your conversation, summarize what you were talking about for them.
After the event, write down notes (preferably on the back of their business card) about details of the conversation to help you remember them for later.
Over time, the hosts will find you as a valuable resource:
- Interacting with all those people means you know who does what, as well as useful trivia about them.
- By spreading the good reputation of others wherever you go, you create a good reputation for yourself.
Contrary to some opinions, small favors are critical to make people feel important:
- People like to feel needed.
- By asking many small favors, you can build a close rapport with others in a relatively short amount of time.
If you want someone to do something for you, clearly state what you want:
- When possible, make that favor at least 24 hours into the future for them to dwell on it.
- If they’re at all hesitant, indicate clearly how it benefits them.
- If it doesn’t directly benefit them, make it worth their effort.
- Offer to give them something they want.
- Pay them back with another favor.
- Be careful, since an unspecified favor to the wrong person can often force you to make terrible decisions later.
Go out of your way to do small favors for others:
- Inform them or connect them with what they need to succeed.
- Generously give, but don’t do it reliably or they’ll come to expect it and take it for granted.
- Whenever you encounter anyone who performs a service (e.g., waiter, accountant), send their boss a thank you note.
- Be the first to applaud or publicly commend someone doing a good thing.
- “Collect” on your favors less than giving, and make sure you give plenty of time with an unpaid favor to your advantage.
Public speaking and discourse
A public speech is simply a broad-reaching discourse with a clearly defined time limit:
- You’re trying to convey 1 big philosophically-driven point with up to 2-5 major points that create a relatable story that supports it.
- People never get bored if they’re at the center of the experience, so pay very close attention them: who they are, what they believe, and what they want.
- Since a speech will never compare to writing (which people can gloss over), limit your speech to only the most critical information.
- If you absolutely must share more information, simplify it with a reference to your writing.
- Estimate your word count when you write it out: the average speaker uses 2-3 words a second, so a 10-minute speech will need about 1,500 words (600 seconds x 2.5 words).
- Your feelings will bleed into your speech, so your emotional state is as important as what you say.
- Professional speakers treat public speeches as casual, informal experiences to make everything feel more comfortable.
- The larger the crowd, the more energy you’ll need to bring to the event.
Speaking to a crowd is the most extreme form of communication, but crosses into many fields:
While anyone can publicly speak with practice, more people are afraid of it than dying:
- Even when you completely screw up, people are paying more attention to your message than you.
- Professional public speakers still have fear, but they learn to manage it.
- The fear is inevitable, but their secret is to channel it into body language, voice projection, and focusing on their tone.
- Learn to sweep your eyes across the room and, eventually, fix your gaze on a few people in the room at a time.
Conveniently, audiences pay more attention to the message than the speaker:
- In that sense, public speaking is mostly a performance that magnifies a interest point of view.
- People even feel like a story of the speaker’s life is separate from that speaker standing in front of them.
- Only speak with a purpose in mind:
- To inform – gives understanding, an explanation or knowledge
- To entertain – bring amusement, enjoyment, and laughter
- To inspire – animate or exalt the human spirit or arouse feelings
- To convince – trigger change, alter beliefs or strengthen beliefs
- To persuade – bring a belief through argument and reason
- People only remember up to 3 points from a speech, so keep it brief.
The ideal lecture location is a theater or any other place where everyone is able to see and hear you clearly.
Build a common theme to emphasize the discourse:
- Every discourse, no matter how small, is a story.
- Use imagery that draws from words to paint a verbal picture.
- Use a catch-phrase throughout the talk to connect to the central idea.
- Whatever you share, it must be useful or motivational, and must relate to the audience’s experiences.
Keep your central idea specific:
- The central idea should be a complete sentence that directly connects to an emotional association in the audience, and the title should reflect it:
- The top five problems you have with _____ and how to solve them
- Why _____ sucks and what we can do about it
- Mistakes I made in _____ and what I learned
- The most frequently asked questions and brilliant answers about _____
- The truth about _____ and how it can help you
- Smart shortcuts and clever tricks only experts know about _____
- The five reasons you win by giving me _____
- Why _____ will change your life forever, for free, right now
- The idea should be very specific and resonate with feelings and experiences, not niches and specialties.
- Usually, the best ideas are profoundly simple.
- You should be saying your central idea as early on as possible to give the listeners context for everything else you want to say.
- People aren’t that great at listening, so try to express your point through at least three different perspectives throughout the discourse.
Your preparation is completely personal preference:
- All you need is a working understanding of what you’re trying to share.
- You should be confident enough to speak without consciously thinking about what you want to say.
- If you thoroughly understand your ideas, you can expand or shrink it to the size of any presentation.
- Don’t completely improvise when you can research beforehand, but don’t read off a script unless you must.
- If you must read off a script, memorize the first and last few lines to look at the audience at the beginning and end when they’re likely to look at you.
- If you intend to memorize it all, you should be able to speak ahead of a double-time recording of yourself while focusing on something else.
- Have a basic outline of what you want to cover, with at least 2-3 words per point to stay on track.
- Most professional speakers have a “pocket speech” ready at a moment’s notice.
- If you’re concerned, ask the host if anything has happened recently that you should know about.
A. First, give an introduction:
- The introduction will be ~10% of the discourse, and will be the first impression you’re leaving the audience.
- If the context permits, ask the audience if they’re too cold or too warm, then ask the organizers to do something about it.
- The central idea should be part of the introduction somewhere, preferably within the first few moments of the speech.
- Since your first minute in the spotlight gives the most impact, your introduction should not last over a minute.
- To build drama for your opener, pause for a couple seconds.
- The first two seconds determine whether the audience wants to listen.
- Your opener determines how exciting and interesting you are, and must be different than their expectations.
- Use whatever the host introduced you as the presumption everyone has of you (i.e., the expert on that subject).
- Some openers always capture attention:
- Start with a verb.
- Start with a story.
- Ask a series of questions that lead to the same answer.
- Start with a shocking, uncomfortable statistic.
- Ask a question that makes them want to hear the answer.
- Communicate exactly how much time you’ve been given, how many points you want to make and how much time you will spent on each point, and that the remaining time at the end will be for questions.
- Ask a simple question with a decent prize (e.g., copies of your book, items you know the crowd likes, $10 coffee shop cards) for people who get it right.
- Pose an interesting, challenging problem related to your topic that can be solved in 30-60 seconds.
- Let the audience know they can loudly ask “who cares?” at any time, and you’ll explain how it matters.
- Take a risk and tell them that you only want 5 minutes of their time, and that they can tune out for the rest if they want, but that you simply want the first 300 seconds of their time.
- Avoid bad introductions:
- Fumbling with anything, or unclear/indecisive sounds or words.
- Apologetic behavior of any sort.
- Flattery, or any overused expression of how honored you are to be there.
- Pompous or pretentious language.
- Inappropriate jokes or comments.
- Since most people are distracted in the first minute by the transition to your speaking, avoid opener jokes unless they’re explicitly relevant to the speech.
- To honor formalities, refer to the previous speaker or the occasion.
- Draw good attention:
- You’re trying to arouse the audience’s curiosity.
- Show how the audience could gain or lose.
- Clarify common ground with the audience, especially if they are hostile or don’t care.
- Win respect with reputation, standing or esteem.
- Use a visual aid if you want, but it must be a completely optional portion of your speech.
- Unless you’re aiming for it, avoid bad attention:
- Avoid sensational tricks.
- Show sincerity and modesty.
- Never imply you’re superior.
- Pave the way for the body of the speech.
B. Next, navigate the body of the speech:
- The body will be ~85% of the discourse, and will be 2-5 main points that advance the central idea.
- Organize the main points into 2-5 brief, complete sentences.
- You should know the likely counter-argument for each point.
- Never spend more than 10 minutes on any point.
- Subordinate points will give more detail to each main point.
- Clarify each subordinate point with stories.
- If you can, use a subordinate point to reference the previous speaker’s ideas.
- Avoid any points that the previous speaker had already said.
- Use transitioning words, phrases, and sentences that link everything together.
- While you can use any words you want, avoid overused or odd words (“and”, “and so”, “uh”).
- Choose any order you want:
- Chronological or time – yesterday, today, tomorrow or past, present, future
- Space – top, middle, bottom or east, west, north, south
- Topical – logical or natural divisions of the subject
- Classification – groups something is made of or used for
- Cause-effect – sequence of events
- Monroe’s motivated sequence:
- Attention – gains favorable attention
- Need – state what needs improvement
- Satisfaction – show how a suggested solution fills the need
- Visualization – vividly describe the solution’s practical implementation
- Action – state what the audience can do
- Problem-solution – first explain the problem, then state the solution
- Theory-practice – first tell the theory, then describe the practice
- Ascending-descending – most important first, then down to least important
- Descending-ascending – least significant first, then up to most important
- Who? What? When? Where? How? Why? – answer all or most of the questions
- Extended analogy – entire speech is an extended analogy
- Stop, look, listen – give specific instructions
- ABC’s – essentials of the thing, or elementary processes or principles
- Keyword or name – make an acronym to clarify main points
- Always add something personal in the middle that openly shares your failings and understates your successes.
- Some people are terrified to lose the audience in the middle, but it’s the best time to share open, heartfelt things.
- You can get feedback and adjust accordingly in the middle by asking “how many of you think I’m going too slow?”, then the same for going too fast.
- Unless you intentionally want it for dramatic effect, don’t let silence persist in the middle because it focuses the conversation.
- Only have 3-4 points, and add more at the risk of boring or confusing the audience.
- Be prepared to throw some of your talking points out if you lose track of time.
C. Each of your main points will emphasize a different angle of the story:
- Clarify with a detailed hypothetical or factual example (illustration).
- Anecdotes are relatively brief stories of a humorous, curious or noteworthy incident.
- They’re often biographical and usually with a human interest.
- They often involves personal experiences, but may include observing or doing something.
- Descriptions either appeal to the senses or tells how parts of something fit into a whole.
- Anecdotes are relatively brief stories of a humorous, curious or noteworthy incident.
- Clarify by pointing out similarities or differences between objects or qualities(comparison).
- Analogies are quick comparisons between two things:
- Literal analogies are extended comparisons that point to something similar.
- Figurative analogies compare different things that either resemble each other in likeness or through a statement that compares them.
- Analysis breaks a whole into its parts, usually by comparing/contrasting something else.
- Analogies are quick comparisons between two things:
- Clarify by explicitly stating how a whole and its components are related, or simply “what it is”(explanation).
- Make a general statement of the whole of something.
- Tell how the parts fit the whole of it.
- Tell how it differs from everything else in the universe.
- Define it with an official or authoritative meaning.
- Reinforce existing thoughts with restatement (saying things another way) or repetition (repeating the same words for emphasis).
- Prove something with persuasion.
- Factual illustrations are detailed examples of a real thing that confirms a conclusive or likely truth.
- Statistics are any numbers that measure reality.
- You’ll need specific stories from large-scale data to prove the point.
- If you need a statistic, ask a simple question to 25, 50 or 100 people.
- Only use a stated testimony or quotation from someone with authority on the subject.
- Make sure to clarify if it’s a quote or paraphrase.
- You can pull information from a variety of sources:
- Interviews, questionnaires, and correspondences
- Library and internet resources
- Encyclopedias, periodicals, newspapers, yearbooks/almanacs, and specialized reference books
D. Wrap up the ideas with a conclusion that captures one final idea:
- The conclusion will be ~5% of the discourse, and wraps up the entire reason people sat through your speech.
- Always leave the speech on a positive note.
- Don’t end inappropriately:
- Stopping awkwardly or saying “that’s all I have to say”
- Apologizing at all
- Saying “in conclusion” and then speaking more than one sentence
- Casting doubt about what you said or asked them to do
- Avoiding a conclusion by saying “the speech could go on and on, and I leave the conclusion to you”
- You can end the speech in a variety of ways:
- Summarize the message.
- Quote someone who summarized your speech in familiar or authoritative words.
- Restate the central idea.
- Make a personal reference or appeal to what you believe or desire the audience to understand.
- Share an anecdote that demonstrates the message.
- Give a rhetorical question that doesn’t call for an answer.
- Call for an action (especially in a persuasive speech).
- Make a challenge to think or act.
- If appropriate, open up for questions by asking “Is there anything you’d like me to clarify?”
- To make it resonate, memorize the end word-for-word, especially the last sentence.
Pause frequently to draw more attention:
- Pause before saying something in a different way.
- Hold a pause after you’ve said something you think is important.
- Pause to give relief for the listeners to absorb what they’ve just heard.
Keep your pace at an even tempo:
- Since you’re nervous, you’ll be tempted to speak faster, but hold an even pace.
- If you need, practice with a metronome.
- Build an expected flow of language and action, then deviate from it faster to elevate the mood or slower to lower it.
- Reflect your body language to create the correct environment:
- Grand gestures and slow pace to create awe and wonder.
- Small gestures and slow pace to generate fear and uncertainty.
- Grand gestures and fast pace to portray enthusiasm and energy.
- Small gestures and fast pace to create anxiety and unease.
Use visual cues and slides carefully:
- You should be able to hold up your discourse without visual aids.
- If you use them correctly, visuals can make an enormous impact.
- Mismanaging them, though, will distract the audience, which is far more frequent.
- If your idea is simple enough, you do not need slides.
- Everyone in the room should be able to see what you’re showing.
- If you use a prop, explain what it’s for almost immediately unless you’re aiming for suspense.
- Use simple slides:
- Use the 10/20/30 Rule for all text slides:
- No more than 10 slides, 20 minutes of speaking, and at least a 30 pt font.
- Even in a one-hour meeting, never speak for more than 20 minutes (assume 25 minutes for setup and 15 minutes for questions).
- You’ll run through the slides relatively quickly, so keep them simple with large text.
- Rarely use effects and transitions.
- Each slide should match the theme on all the other slides.
- Relevant things on the slides should be apparent within the first second of seeing it.
- Don’t use full sentences on the slides.
- The audience will stop listening to read them.
- Use the 10/20/30 Rule for all text slides:
- If you want to focus on something specific, point directly to an object on the slide, but overused pointing distracts from the message.
- Don’t give out copies of presentation slides.
- They’ll read the presentation instead of observing you.
- Converting presentation slides to handouts is adapting a medium, so they’re more complicated to read.
- If you want them to have a document, prepare a dedicated handout for the end.
Sensibly plan for your speech:
- A day before the event:
- If you’re using slides on your computer, reate a separate account to prevent showing anything sensitive or embarrassing.
- Save a PowerPoint presentation as a PowerPoint Show (.ppsx) to open it directly to the slideshow.
- Prepare your speech for how much time you’ll need and the way you say words.
- Rehearse with someone else or record and play yourself back.
- Relax and do something fun that evening.
- The day of the speech:
- 3 hours before, take a short walk to clear your mind.
- Drink 90 minutes and 30 minutes before the speech, then go to the bathroom.
- Show up early to the event to give time to settle yourself.
- If you can, meet audience members to make speaking in front of them easier.
- If you’re opening up for questions, arrange for a friend to ask one to start the discussion.
- Right before speaking:
- 15 minutes before you go up, drink water to prevent dry mouth.
- Release stress:
- Take a deep breath through your nose all the way in.
- Raise your shoulders as high as you can.
- Drop your chin to your chest.
- Try chewing gum or practicing a familiar ritual.
- Remind yourself why you’re speaking.
- As you feel stress, keep breathing normally.
- Keep the two most important parts of your message in memory:
- The opening statement(s)
- The closing statement(s)
- Bring bottled water with you when you go up to take a drink if you need to gather your thoughts.
- After the speech:
- If you’ve opened for questions, keep your answers short.
- Offer to discuss in-depth questions later or send information to them.
- Learn from your mistakes and move on.
- Nobody paid as much attention to them as you.
- If you’ve opened for questions, keep your answers short.
Keep a close eye on time:
- Since people are scheduled to listen to you, the worst thing you can do is bore them longer than scheduled.
- On the other hand, brevity leaves people legitimately interested wanting more, which increases their likelihood of following up with you later.
- After about 30 minutes, people become mentally fatigued.
- If it’s a very long speech, give frequent breaks or mix in interactive activities.
- When in doubt, ask the room for a show of hands if they want to move on to the next topic.
- Every 10 minutes, re-establish the attention of the room by asking a question to see who is still interested.
- If it’s a webinar, don’t bog down the speech by answering their typed questions.
- Wait until the end, or have an assistant do it or give them exercises for you to catch up.
- Give access to the lecture notes, presentation slides or a recording of the speech for their convenience.
Leave them with something to take home:
- Give a handout or business card.
- Make sure one major idea connects to a mundane household object.
- If it’s already scheduled, tell them of a future event you’re involved in.
- Giving them something to do with the information is often the most difficult part of the discourse.
- You must help them succeed beyond your influence or reputation, which requires humility.
Your ability to adapt in a moment is crucial:
- Your improvisational creativity becomes critical in those times because all their attention is focused on you.
- If microphone fails, step into the audience for everyone to still hear you.
- If the media fails, tell anecdotes to pass the time.
- If someone is talking on their phone or having a side conversation, politely and directly telling them to be silent or go outside will earn the audience’s respect.
- Keep in mind that people on their laptop or phone might be live-messaging or taking notes, so they might not be ignoring you.
- Being interesting with a valuable idea will send mixed messages, and some people will oppose you.
- Have a plan in place for people who try to derail the discussion, especially in a question-and-answer session.
- Constantly ask yourself self-critical questions throughout the speech:
- Do they know this fact or lesson already?
- Do they need me to explain this point in a different way?
- Are they saturated with information and need a break or a laugh?
- Are they too cocky and need a challenge?
Try to get feedback afterward:
- Record yourself with video to review how you did.
- Since they were likely forced to listen and don’t have a bias for you, ask what the camera and sound operators thought.
- Ask people what they thought, then listen without judgment.
- If you want specific feedback, have cards prepared for them with variations of the following:
- Was this a good use of your time, and why?
- Would you recommend this lecture to others?
- Is there anything you’re considering doing different because of this talk?
- Do you know what to do next to continue learning?
- Were you inspired or motivated?
- How likeable did you find the speaker?
- How substantive did you find the speaker’s material?
- Contrary to intuition, you’ve given a great presentation when people want you to have spoken longer.
- If you want to get your ideas even more fleshed out, write and publish them.
Learning another language
Learning a new language isn’t as difficult as it may feel:
- To achieve bare-minimum, you only need enough phrases to hold a basic conversation with a native speaker about mundane objects.
- You only need about 125 basic words in any language to start linking and adapting to begin speaking.
- At about 625 words, you can speak on the level of most children.
- You can be fluent in most languages and understand most of what you read with only about 1,000 words.
- Even an experienced native language professor won’t know most of that language’s words!
- You’re rewriting your brain with a new set of information (mostly for the same things), so you simply need lots of exposure to get it into your memory.
- Children are exposed to thousands of hours of their native language, but adults only need a few hundred for the same results.
Bear in mind, though, that cultural awareness is far more important for connecting than knowing a culture’s language:
- Before you even visit a country, research beforehand about all their cultural standards.
The best path when learning any language is to move intuitively into it:
- Listen carefully to thoroughly hear the idiosyncrasies of the language.
- Gradually imitate the pronunciation with your tongue, but not looking at anything.
- Once you have it down, start trying to read or imitate speakers.
- Learn the grammar and a basic set of vocabulary.
- Expand on vocabulary as far as you need.
Every language is divided into pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary:
- Pronunciation is the way you make sounds.
- Grammar is the correct way to arrange words.
- Vocabulary is the list of words you know.
Read and watch things you want to watch, and make your own curriculum:
- By making your own curriculum, you increase how much fun you’ll likely have with it (and increase your learning as a consequence).
- Focus on constantly finding new things more than repetition.
- Draw personal connections to the words.
- Learn aspects of the new culture or subjects in that language that you like.
- You should enjoy what you’re consuming and trying to parse.
- As much as possible, do not cross the languages.
- When you see something, you’re building a “second brain”, so avoid mixing in your native language into that thinking.
- While learning the language, you will have to wrestle with 2 points of view at once.
- It takes tremendous focus to learn what you want to know without the distraction of what you already know.
- Instead of consuming a wide variety of content, focus on getting used to a small amount of content.
- 3/4 of your language learning will be consuming, not speaking.
- Try to listen more than read.
- Listen to lyrical music in that language.
- Watch foreign-language films and TV.
- Choose any genre you want, as long as it’s not comedy (since it breaks many language rules).
- Because of the spread-out medium, TV is generally easier to consume than films.
- Research the plot summary ahead of time to know what’s going on.
- Do not put subtitles on in your language or you won’t learn how to listen.
- Guidebooks with CDs are worth the purchase.
- Find target-language audio books for books you’ve already read in your language.
Get used to the sounds and rhythm at first, and don’t worry too much about understanding all of it:
- Choose short items of a few lines, then later 2-5 minute segments.
- Listen a few times without reading the text.
- Lip-sync words and phrases as you come across them, and look up words you don’t know.
Focus obsessively on correct pronunciation:
- How you pronounce determines how well you can fluently assemble words together in that language.
- It’ll take you 3-8 days to get it right if you practice 30 minutes each day.
- Focus on sounds, not letters.
- Some languages have a few sounds (Hawaiian has 15) or many (certain Caucusus languages have up to 60).
- Depending on what you learned as a small child, you may not be able to pronounce some sounds at all.
- Create a temporary “phonetic alphabet” to catch all the sounds of the language.
- Become accustomed to the sounds of that language.
- Trust your ear to develop a good accent.
- Closely observe how people in that language have accents in your language, since they’re borrowing patterns from their native tongue.
- Imitate the sound you hear, and record yourself to see how you sound.
- Pay close attention to really similar sounds and syllables.
- Aim for absolute precision, and try to avoid overlaying how your native language uses a sound.
- You only use 3 parts of your body to make words:
- Your tongue does most of the work, and you might have limits in training it.
- Your lips are either open to make an “ooo” sound, very open to make an “aaa” sound, or closed.
- Your vocal cords are either activated (e.g., “zzz”) or not (e.g., “sss”).
- Every consonant requires 3 major bits of information:
- Where’s your tongue?
- What’s your tongue doing there?
- Are your vocal cords doing anything?
- Vowels have 2 bits of information:
- Where’s your tongue?
- Are your lips in a circle?
- Most language has very small nuances:
- Saying “bee fee thee see she ye key he” gives 8 of the 11 possible combinations of your tongue and lips.
- Saying “toe no so low row” has the tongue in the same place, but changes how and where air passes around the tongue.
- Vowels are very particular, and “ee eh ah” is simply a vertical movement of the tongue.
- Note connections between sounds, and how they cluster together.
- Most words have been smoothed over centuries into a natural flow of the tongue.
- Focus on gliding between the sounds.
To increase your mental association, adopt the body language and culture of the language you’re trying to learn.
Pay close attention to mouth movements:
- T type sounds are a sudden pop of air (“t”, “d”, “p”, “b”, “k”, “g”).
- You’re locking the air in until you push it through after enough buildup.
- Tap type makes a very short version of this (“r” in Spanish).
- N type sounds are through the nose (“n”, “m”).
- S type sounds make sounds of air passing through the mouth.
- It can be a rushing sound (“f”, “s”, “sh”, “h”, “th” from “thing”).
- It might be buzzing (“v”, “z”, “th” from “the”).
- L type sounds are making sound by blocking air from escaping through the front (“l”).
- R type sounds aren’t obstructing the air at all, but adapt the tongue to change the sound.
- Some are more like vowels than consonants (“r”, “w”, “y”).
- Avoid looking directly at the letter “r”, since it’s spoken in English very differently than other languages and seeing it provokes our conditioning.
- It curls up more than a Spanish or Italian “r” and moves the opposite direction from a French or German “r”.
- Trilled type sounds come from S type, but by letting the tongue flap against the roof of the mouth (“rr” in Spanish).
- This can also express by letting the back of the tongue flap against the uvula (“r” in French).
Only move onto correct grammar after you feel comfortable with pronunciation:
- All grammar comes from 3 basic methods:
- Add words (“You like it.” versus “Do you like it?”)
- Change the forms of words (“I eat.” versus “I ate.”)
- Change the words’ order (“This is nice.” versus “Is this nice?”)
- About 50% of elementary language books obsess about pronouns and verbs.
- Most grammar rules are easy to understand simply by closely observing a few details in textbook examples:
- Did any words get added to the sentence?
- Did any words change their form in that sentence?
- Is the word order at all surprising?
- Memorize the gender of nouns and verbs as a visual mnemonic (e.g., masculine explodes, feminine catches fire, neuter shatters like glass).
- Grammar is best learned by using, not by talking about or analyzing it.
- The reason grammar can be challenging is because the example sentences are often teaching multiple grammar rules at once (e.g., tense, pronouns, and gender).
If at all possible, make frequent conversations with a native speaker:
- If you use language learning books alone, you’ll likely have an awkward pace compared to learning through conversations.
- Find people online to chat with over a video conference.
- After introducing, have 5-6 small talk topics ready to discuss.
- Get a language tutor.
- They should not spend more than 5 minutes speaking your native language during each session.
- Invite your friend or tutor to make fun of you by saying the word how you say it, then saying it correctly.
- Keep listening carefully to how they speak, and closely analyze the differences.
- Pay close attention to how people respond to your choice of words.
- Since there are regional dialects (which you will need to understand) find a wide variety of people who speak various dialects of that language.
- Even with nobody around, you can still learn through dialogue:
- Repeat the phrases until you clearly hear yourself.
- Record yourself speaking and compare it to native speakers.
Focus on the bare essential vocabulary and phrases you must understand:
- Add new words and phrases every week.
- Every language has its own way to adapt verbs to context, and uses a few key verbs a lot:
- to be, to have, to be able, to come, to go, to know, to take, to want, to say or tell, to do or make, to see, to give
- Read a small dictionary (such as at the back of a travel guide) to understand the most basic and critical words.
- Pick words you’ll likely use (e.g., “mother”, “medicine”) over words you may not use nearly as much (e.g., “niece”, “peach”).
- Focus on hard words by saying the syllables in reverse.
- Don’t fill your mind with less useful words:
- Since verbs require nouns and most verbs are styled like other verbs, conjugate verbs as you go and don’t bother trying to memorize how to do it.
- Adverbs and adjectives simply describe and expand on the nouns and verbs, so you don’t really “need” them right away.
- Synonyms (e.g., “policeman” versus “cop”) are only useful once you understand the language enough to detect context, so just use your favorite word for now and change later once it’s intuitive.
Build out words into phrases:
- Phrases are groups of 2 or more words that will help you express yourself.
- Systematically learning phrases is the easiest way to learn a language and tends to also teach verb tenses, prepositions, and vocabulary.
- Glide the words together into natural phrases instead of each word as a standalone object.
- Make the phrases a part of your daily language.
To expand your vocabulary, read language literature:
- Most of the advanced words of a language are written, and people generally don’t speak them.
- We tend to learn unknown words about 10% of the time we encounter it.
- Learn how to filter out words that are generally unimportant relative to the central ideas of what you’re reading.
- Break down every sentence into smaller pieces.
- Get a good grammar book.
- Don’t bother with books designed for classrooms, since they usually don’t explain anything.
- A frequency dictionary typically has the 5,000 most important words.
- Get a single-language dictionary for that language (which has actual definitions and teaches more words), and a bilingual dictionary.
- Read the Wikipedia article in your target language.
- Use an image search to see results for an obscure word.
Use flash cards to build up your memory:
- You’re trying to deepen memories with flash cards, not make them.
- Write phrases on the card, not just words.
- Make the phrases memorable by using fun ideas.
- You should be able to say the phrase out loud, as well as make a mental picture from it.
- Do not use your native language on the back side, just a picture.
- Our visual memory has an easier time learning than simply text memory.
- Word-picture combinations work better than words alone.
- Make many simple cards instead of a few complex cards.
- Only study while you enjoy it, and never for more than an hour at a time.
- Study until you can repeat it once without looking, then stop.
Write out the language, but stay focused on speaking:
- In some ways, writing was our first foreign language because it requires seeing versus hearing.
- By writing, you can understand the structure of the language and clearly capture ideas, but it won’t let you feel it out (which is critical for speaking).
- Use translation software (like Google Translate) to get a gist of what you’re trying to write.
Keep yourself productive by setting and pursuing goals:
- At the end of each lesson, ask what you learned that would help you if you left immediately for that language’s country.
- Measure how many words you read, how many words and phrases you’ve committed to memory.
- Keep track of how many words and phrases you know in total.
- When you’re comfortable with the sound of the language, phase out your phonetic alphabet.
As long as you persevere every day, with lots of input, you will quickly learn it within 6 weeks to a year:
- It’s not easy, but nothing worthwhile really is.
- You’ll notice your experience with language speakers will get harder at some point because they presume you’re a native speaker and start speaking at their normal pace with informal style and slang, and with big words.
- If you want to expand yourself further, learning a third language becomes significantly easier.