How to talk to people: Tools for young people with visible difference

We’ve brought together two tools to help you sound and feel more confident when talking to people.

For most of us, talking and acting confidently around those we don’t know very well can be hard, especially if we’ve only just met them. If you look different, this can be even harder, as you might be wondering what other people are thinking about you.

Maybe you think you just don’t know how to talk to people. The good news is that with practice anyone can learn to come across more confidently, even if at first you don’t feel like it inside.

On this page, we introduce two tools to boost your confidence around others.

Talking confidently tool

Here are some things you can do to make yourself feel and sound more confident if you’re not sure how to talk to people.

Talk so other people can hear you

Talking so people can hear you will make you seem more confident – and that will make you feel more confident too.

  • If you can, stand or sit so the other person or people can see your face.
  • Try to speak loudly enough that they can hear you OK.

There are some things you can avoid doing too – the sorts of things we tend to do when we’re nervous:

  • Don’t put your hands over your mouth.
  • Try not to cover your face with your hair or clothes.

This might sound like a lot, but if you memorise these things, then remind yourself of them when you’re going into a social situation, it can really help you with how to talk to people. Practise with your family, too –they can let you know when you forget and help you unlearn some of the habits you might have picked up.

Start a conversation

If you’re getting to grips with how to talk to people, starting a conversation can feel like the scariest thing imaginable! Lots of people find it hard. If you have a visible difference, you might be worried about what the other person thinks about the way you look.

But actually, the other person might also be struggling too and want you to start a conversation.

One of the best ways to start a conversation is to ask the other person a question. Here are some examples:

  • If you are at school, you might want to ask what classes they have, what teachers, or what their favourite subject is.
  • If the other person is reading a book you might want to mention that you like that book too (but only if you actually do – don’t pretend!) If you haven’t read it, you could also ask them what the book is about.
  • You might want to make a comment about something you can see or that makes you laugh, or just anything that pops into your head.

Here is an example:

Marcela was in the lunch queue at school when she noticed the boy behind her looking at her. She turned round and said, “Ugh, mushy peas again! Good thing Wednesday only comes once a week.” “Yeah”, said the boy, “Sludgy, gloopy peas!” They both laughed.

Now give it a go.

Imagine you are on the school bus and you want to talk to the person next to you. On your phone, on a piece of paper or in a notebook, write down:

  • Two questions you might ask them.
  • One comment you might make to them.

Joining in a conversation

Joining in with a conversation can be tricky. We can all be a bit rubbish at including new people, often because we don’t know what to say, rather than because we want to leave them out.

Sometimes that means that if we want to be part of someone else’s group conversation, we have to be brave and find a way to join in. Here are some tips on how to do it:

  • Listen to what people in the group are saying.
  • Think about what is being talked about.
  • Think about something you could say about that subject, for example:
    • Something you know about it.
    • Something you think is interesting about it.
  • Ask a question (most people like to be asked questions!)
  • Wait for a break or pause – then take the plunge and join in.

Imagine a group of school students are talking about a film you saw last night. In your notebook, write down a sentence you might use to join the conversation.

Be prepared

When you are going out it can be helpful to think about some things you might talk to other people about.

You don’t have to stick to this, but it can help you feel more confident if you have some ideas of what questions you might ask or what you might say.

On your phone or a bit of paper, write down three things you might say in these situations:

  • In the playground outside school in the morning, if you have just joined a group of people who were already there.
  • In the line outside your form room on the first day of secondary school.
  • At a group trip to the cinema when you arrive and the only other person there is someone you don’t know very well.

Most of us do not find any of this easy – sometimes you have to “fake it till you make it”. It might feel difficult at first, but after some practice we promise it gets easier.

Body language tool

Sometimes if we act confidently we start to feel good about ourselves – even if we didn’t feel that great to start with. Did you know that your body “talks” to other people? It’s called body language and it gives a lot of information about our mood and personality.

What is body language?

We can tell people things by how we stand, walk, move, sit, talk, sound and by the expression on our face. We also “read” body language all the time – without even thinking about it – to learn more about other people.

Think about these two examples:

  • If someone is slouching, hanging their head down, hiding their face away or not looking at us, we might think they seem unhappy, not interested, rude or shy. It often makes it harder for us to talk to them.
  • Think about someone who stands tall, who looks at us and smiles. They seem confident, friendly and easy – we often find it easier to know how to talk to people like this.

Controlling your body language

You can change your body language. You can use it to give off a confident, relaxed vibe that you may not be feeling inside. Here are some things you can do with your body to project confidence:

  • Posture: Stand or sit up straight, keep your head held high and your shoulders back.
  • Eyes: Make sure you look at the other person – look at their eyes. We read a lot in each other’s eyes without even thinking about it. This shows you are interested in the other person too. If you struggle to look them in the eye, look at the bridge of their nose, it has the same effect.
  • Smile: A smile is welcoming, friendly and happy. Even if you can’t smile fully with your face because of your visible difference, smile with your eyes.
  • Face: Often our feelings show in our face. If you feel nervous, shy, embarrassed or worried, try to relax your face muscles so you’re not grimacing or scowling!
  • Hands: Use your hands to emphasise things you are saying. Try not to fold your arms as it can make you look fed up or unapproachable.
  • Voice: Speak clearly so people can hear you – this will make you seem confident. Even if speaking is more difficult, try to be clear and speak loud enough to help people to understand you. Speak slowly as your words will be clearer and you will sound calmer.

Eye contact

Practise looking people in the eye – by playing this game with a friend or someone in your family:

  1. Time how long you can look at each other in the eye before one of you looks away. What is your best time?
  2. Keep a note of your longest time the first time – and then see how much better you are two weeks later!

It might feel funny at first – but if you practise, you will find you get good at it!

What if I find it harder to talk, look at people or move my face?

If your visible difference makes it hard to do any of these things, focus on the things you can do. Try these things out with a friend or family member:

  • Speak loudly, slowly and clearly. How fast you talk or making your voice higher or lower, can give more meaning to your words.
  • If you can, look at people’s eyes and show people the expression on your face instead of hiding your face away. If you feel worried about this, try looking at the middle of someone’s nose at first.
  • Use your hands to emphasise what you are saying.
  • If you find it harder to speak, you could say something like, “Please listen carefully as my speech is not very clear”. Let people know you don’t mind repeating yourself. Also, writing things down may be useful too. This will show you are in control and put people at ease as you will be giving clear instructions.

Have a practice

Stand in front of a mirror for these practices.

Without conscious body language

Close your eyes. Imagine you have joined a new school and you’re the only new person in your class – you are nervous and embarrassed. Open your eyes and look at yourself now:

  • How are you standing?
  • What is the expression on your face?

Chances are you look a bit worried! If it helps, get someone else to describe the scenario you are in so you can imagine it more clearly.

Change your body language

  1. Look in the mirror.
  2. Stand up straight.
  3. Pull your shoulders back.
  4. Lift your head straight.
  5. Smile at yourself.

Look yourself in the eye and tell yourself, “I am a great person”.

Now how do you look? Can you tell the difference when you try to make your body look confident? What word would you use to describe yourself?

You could try adding a motto, a phrase of your own which is designed to make you feel more confident. Check out these tools for more information about creating your own motto.

See how it’s going by trying it out on a friend or family-member. Can they see the difference? They might have some tips for thing you could change or do differently too.

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