Many adults agonize over talking to people. We ask ourselves questions that end up making it even harder.
What should I say? Will they be interested in what I’m talking about? Am I going to look like an idiot?
Most little kids don’t have this problem. We can learn from them. Here are five things young children do when interacting that grown-ups should remember.
- Be excited!
- Be animated!
- Don’t worry about what people will think.
- Embellishments are okay.
- Encourage feedback or participation.
When a kindergartner tells you about their day, they tend to be so excited about it that you get excited, too. Little kids are excited about almost everything they tell you. Sure, a lot more things are new to them, but try to channel that spark of newness and excitement. If you’re telling someone a story, whether it’s about what you do for a living or about the costume you made for Halloween, feel it. Being excited about the story you’re telling is the best way to get others excited. Excitement is electrical.
How many times have you told a story, but tried to maintain a dignified stance? Little kids don’t do this. They show emotion – excitement, despair, surprise. You’ll have no question how the little boy who tells you about getting stung by a bee felt. If he thinks it was awesome, you’ll see it in his face, in the way he stands, how he moves his hands; if he was scared, you’ll see that, too. Watching him, you can relive the situation as he tells it to you. As adults, we have learned to hide our emotions. While we shouldn’t start crying while recounting a bee sting story, letting our emotions show through body language and facial expression is a good thing. It draws your listener in and helps them empathize with you.
Grown-ups tend to overthink this one. Little kids know what they have to say is worth saying and that everyone around them will want to hear what they have to say. While that might not be quite true of your stories (the client you’re trying to sell town car services to probably doesn’t want to hear the details of Aunt Irma’s gall bladder operation, and when meeting your sister’s new boyfriend you might want to avoid stories of your sexual escapades), but if a story seems to flow from the conversation, tell it. Just remember to be excited and animated.
If you’ve listened to very many kindergartners tell you stories, you know that they tend to exaggerate. The boy who was stung by a bee wasn’t just stung by any old bee. Oh no. The bee that stung him was as big as his hand, and there were eight hundred million gazillion more of them that would have stung him if he hadn’t gotten away. Embellishing a story in this way can be fun and add to the listeners’ understanding of how you perceived what was happening. There’s a difference between embellishment and lying, so make sure your hyperbole is obvious.
Young children often look to the people they’re talking to for feedback and participation: “Have you ever been stung by a bee? . . . Was it as big as the one that stung me?”
Adults should do the same thing. Draw your listeners’ in by asking them questions. Unless you’re on stage, your stories should be part of a conversation, not a presentation. Ask for their opinions or advice (“What would you have done?”) or involve them in the tension of the story (“What do you think happened next?”). There are different techniques you can use, and which one makes the most sense will depend on your story and personality. The important thing is to involve your listeners in some way.