Improving your conversation skills if you have a visible difference

If you have a visible difference, you might lack confidence when talking to others. We share some tips to help improve your conversation skills.

Do you feel confident talking to people you know well, but struggle with new people? You’re not born with conversation skills. This is good news, as it means you can learn them.

If you have a visible difference, you might find that your worries about what others are thinking about you makes it difficult to talk confidently to people.

On this page, we share some tips to help you improve your conversation skills.

First, here are three tips to help you present yourself more confidently during conversation.

Talking to new people

Everyone feels awkward talking to someone for the first time. People may not seem totally at ease but that isn’t a reflection on you. Although you may feel that an awkward conversation is due to your looks, it may just be your own, or the other person’s, lack of conversation skills – or both! Try not to assume that it is your appearance that is getting in the way of a good conversation.

I’ve developed a lot of skills over the years, through trial and error. I’ve also realised that people who do not have physical difference can also be worried about social situations.

Alison

#1 Use sounds

It might sound silly, but using sounds to give feedback when you are talking to someone shows that you are listening to what they are saying. Make sounds like “mmm”, “ah”, “uh huh” or say “yes” or “OK” to indicate to the other person that you are present and understand what they are saying.

#2: Control your voice

Your tone of voice, pitch, and speed of delivery are very important. If you introduce yourself in a whisper, people won’t hear you and will assume that you are lacking in confidence, which may make conversation more difficult.

This doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with how you look, but because of how you are presenting yourself. Try to speak loudly enough for people to hear you, using an even tone and regular pace of speech. This way, people will see you as more confident and in control, and it may help you feel that way as well.

Starting a conversation

If you have been struggling with low confidence, starting a conversation can feel difficult. You might feel out of practice or you might have negative thoughts such as, “I have nothing to say” or, “No one will care what I have to say”.

But everyone has something to say – you will have done something, seen something, read something or have some comment to add to any conversation. It can be hard but try not to let your negative thoughts stop you from conversations.

Challenging your negative thoughts is the best way to disprove your negative thoughts and improve your conversation skills. It’s important to remember too that other people are usually just as keen to have a successful conversation and may have the same worries that you do.

I remember taking my little girls to mother and toddler groups and feeling really left out as no one was talking to me. Then I realised, I wasn’t talking to them either! I decided one day I was going to start a conversation with someone, I asked another mother if this was the main group they came to and this started a whole conversation about which toddler groups they attended, and when. It was really helpful as I got some top tips on the best ones to go to!

Kerry

How to start a conversation

If you are struggling to start a conversation, try out these techniques and see if they make it easier.

Ask a question

Ask someone what they think about something, giving them an opportunity to respond. In turn you can follow up on their response and so on.

Imagine you have been to a concert with a friend and someone they have brought along who you haven’t met before. Your friend goes to the bar to get some drinks and leaves the two of you alone together.

One thing you could say is, “Did you like the music?”

However, the answer to this is likely to be a simple “yes” or “no”, rather than something that invites more comment. This is not a major problem – you can still remark on the person’s answer or ask another question in response, but it will most likely come back to you to think of something to say.

Instead, you might like to think about asking open questions – these are more likely to elicit a longer and more detailed response which give you the chance to learn about the other person and hopefully develop the conversation. Open questions start with the words:

  • Who did you think performed best tonight?
  • What was your favourite song tonight?
  • Where did you first see this band perform?
  • When did you first hear about this band?
  • How did you meet my friend?

Think about how the other person might respond if you asked: “What did you think of the music?” How could you develop this into a conversation?

Find mutual interests

If you are in a conversation and someone mentions a mutual interest, ask them about it.

For example, if you share a hobby, “I do that too, how are you finding it?” Or if your mutual interest is sports, “What did you think about the last game?”

People love to talk about their interests and one of the things that attracts us to others, for friendship or romance, is shared interests.

Joining a group conversation

It can be hard to be the newcomer to a group conversation. Before speaking, listen to what the group is talking about rather than jumping in and changing the subject. Think of how you can comment on what is being said. When you feel you have a comment to make, try the following:

  • Wait for a natural lull or a pause in the flow and then make a brief comment.
  • Make eye contact with the speaker and nod to indicate you have something to say.
  • Step forward slightly into the group or at least make sure you are not outside the gathering.

Don’t take up too much space with your opening gambit, but once you have become a participant, make sure you share your own experiences and thoughts. Also remember to acknowledge what other people have to say. Here are some examples:

  • “I know, her last film was great. Has anyone seen the one she made previously?”
  • “That sounds really lovely. Talking of holidays, we went to…”
  • “You’re right about playing sport. I would really like to play more…”
  • “It’s interesting that you say that. When I was at school…”

Make sure you are prepared

Being prepared is a good way to improve your conversation skills. It can be helpful to think about a social situation before you enter it. This may help you to feel more in control and confident about your conversation skills. You are less likely to be taken off guard and should have something prepared to say in a variety of different situations.

Make a list of possible subjects before you get there. Here are some useful things to consider:

  • Who is likely to be there?
  • What are their interests likely to be?
  • What might you have in common?
  • What interesting things have happened to you recently?
  • What is happening in the world at the moment?

You can start off gently being part of a conversation by nodding, showing interest and making encouraging sounds. When you are ready you can join in and see how it goes. Gradually, as you practise, you will start to improve your conversation skills and will soon be chatting with other people.

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