Searching your mind for something...anything to say. Yet, the harder you try to come up with something, the less you have to say.
Then the awkward silence creeps in...you might think to yourself:
"Why does my mind go blank all the time?"
That overthinking vortex sucks.
I'm here to help.
Recently I've received messages from people who are struggling with their minds going blank.
- It isn't because you can't think fast enough to respond.
- It's not because you were "born awkward".
- It's something you can overcome with a little planning, practice and mindset shift.
You are the center of your world. (But not everyone's)
There's this jerk of a cognitive bias called the spotlight effect.
We tend to place more importance on ourselves in any given social situation. And we tend to overestimate the amount that other people notice us.
In a 2000 study on The Spotlight Effect, researcher Tom Gilovich and his colleagues found that college students overestimated the percentage of people who noticed the Barry Manilow shirt they were wearing. The Manilow-clad students estimated that 50% of people would notice their shirt.
In reality, only 25% of people noticed Barry.
What does this mean?
If you have a social slip up, it's not as big of a deal as your mind makes it out to be.
This is empowering, knowing that everyone has at least a little bit of The Spotlight Effect helps to normalize those feelings of "Oh crap, everyone is noticing me."
You social advantage: One you get out of your own head and into the room, you can instantly stand out by being proactive.
How to be present in conversations
If you're in a public place reading this, look around. How many people are looking at a screen?
With most of our attention focused on our screens, it's really rare to be present.
I love technology, but as my podcast guest Myke Macapinlac said "Put your phone down and look around."
If you're having a conversation with someone and they're checking their phone every 15 seconds, how does that make you feel about the conversation?
When you know you're going to be social, tap do not disturb.
Beyond technology, there's another quick way to become present if you notice yourself slipping.
In her book "The Charisma Myth" Olivia Fox Cabane recommends wiggling your toes to get a quick shot of presence in the moment.
I've tested this out with clients and it works well to get present fast because you're engaging with your whole body.
Okay, now you're more present, and you know that people aren't noticing you as much as you think they are.
Now you're ready to have an amazing, awkward silence free conversation.
How to never run out of things to say again.
Have you ever held an egg?
If you don't hold it tight enough, it'll roll out of your hand.
If you hold it too tight, it'll explode into a slimy mess.
A conversation can be a lot like holding an egg. The harder you try to come up with something to talk about, the harder it is to actually think of something to say.
Here are three strategies to help you never run out of things to say again, and make people gravitate towards you.
Strategy #1: The Quick Scan.
Before you head out the door in the morning, scan trending news topics. (Twitter, Facebook, Reddit) for 1-3 interesting articles.
Choose articles that are light and good for casual conversation.
Then, for each article, think of a simple script you could use to bring this up in conversation.
"So I saw this story on Twitter before I left the house..."
This gives you a safety net to introduce a new topic into a conversation.
Strategy #2: The Spokes Method
The spokes method will help you connect with anyone on virtually any topic.
Even if you don’t know much about the current topic.
No more grasping for small talk topics! Yay!
Imagine a bicycle wheel.
In the middle you have a hub, and radiating out from the hub are several spokes.
Now, imagine the hub as the conversational topic.
The spokes are different, related topics that can be introduced.
Example: Your conversational partner brings up mountain biking, something you don't know much about.
Should you just stonewall them and say "I don't want to talk about mountain biking."
Dale Carnegie, author of How To Win Friends And Influence People once spent an entire dinner party talking (and mostly listening) about botany. Something he knew little about.
His conversational partner told the host that Carnage was the best conversationalist he'd ever met.
Lesson: You don't have to carry the conversation.
Watch this video for more examples of The Spokes Method:
Do this instead: Use the Spokes Method to "think around the topic" and mention other things that are related to mountain biking:
- Tour De France
- Places to mountain bike
You can go deeper into who the person is by bringing up:
- "So what got you into mountain biking?"
- "Do people mountain bike race?"
- "What's the most challenging type of trail you've been on?"
You can even play the role of beginner with a question like:
- "I don't know much about mountain biking, what do you like about it?"
Using Spokes, you're able to talk with anyone about anything.
Spokes works because it's a win-win.
A win for you because you get to have a great, engaging conversation without awkward silences.
A win for them because (spoiler alert) other people love talking about themselves and will leave the conversation thinking that you are awesome.
Keep in mind that it's important to resist the urge to self-edit what you say.
If you think it's good enough for the conversation, it doesn't have to be the perfect thing to say.
Perfect is the enemy of good.
In my clients and readers, the biggest challenge to overcoming the dreaded "blank mind syndrome" is hesitation.
When we hesitate, we allow our overthinking brain to take over.
This causes us to overthink everything we might say:
"Oh, I can't say that!"
It causes us to minimize our own importance:
"What could I possibly add?"
And worst of all, it causes us to be stuck in our own heads. This leads to negative self talk:
"Why do I always do this?! I am so dumb."
At that point, it's really hard to break out and rejoin the conversation. I call this the "overthinking tax"
A better approach? The quick win.
When we stop overthinking and take action, we learn and grow faster:
There are many ways to quick win in a conversation:
- Introduce yourself first to any new people that join the group. Catch them up on the current topic.
- Bring up interesting items from your quick scan.
- Be curious about who they are. "So what brings you to this conference?"
The surface level effect of going for the quick win is simply having a more engaging conversation.
The lasting impact of going for the quick win is building the inner belief that you are the kind of person who can be successful with people.
When we change our actions, our mindset follows.
It's hard to think ourselves to social confidence. It's easier to do things that naturally lead to social confidence.
Our mindset will follow.
What's a quick win you could go for this week? Let me know in the comments!