Last weekend, I had a really nice chat with David Tennant.
I’m a total Whovian and the 10th Doctor is my absolute favorite, so you can probably guess how nervous I was.
While I’ve made it a point of pride that I can easily talk to just about anyone, any time, anywhere, I’ve never actually been face to face with anyone as famous as David Tennant. To make things even more stressful, I knew that I would only have about 30 seconds to a minute to talk to him before my turn at the autograph table was up and someone else would take my place. Still, I couldn’t stand the thought of missing the opportunity to connect, however briefly, with someone I’ve admired for so long.
I was surrounded by a crowd of fellow Tennant fans and Whovians, all awaiting their turn to say hello and have something signed. I felt the excitement bubbling up around me in a chorus of delighted chatter and nervous whispers. We were all a little anxious, a little thrilled, and maybe just a little bit terrified. Okay, I was terrified. I can’t really speak for anyone else, but for me, at least, a dozen competing thoughts were running through my head.
- What if I can’t think of anything to say?
- What if I say something stupid?
- What if my voice goes all squeaky or too loud? (Both have been known to happen)
- What if he isn’t as nice as he is in my head and I become so intimidated that I can’t talk at all?
Luckily, I learned long ago not to rely on knowing what to say or do in a situation as it’s happening. Things go much better when you have a plan. So I took a moment to mentally step away from the situation and asked myself, “What would I tell my readers on Get Fearless?” The advice I gave myself was good advice. It served me well. When my turn came, I stepped up to the table, looked David Tennant in the eye and said “Hi, I’m Brinna.” And even though my little fangirl heart was overwhelmed at hearing my favorite Doctor, say “Hi Brinna, nice to meet you,” (in that gorgeous British accent, oh my gods!) I was still able to continue the conversation just as I’d planned it out in my head only minutes before.
We talked, we laughed, I showed him a drawing my niece had made of the Doctor and the TARDIS, and then we said goodbye just as casually as though we were old friends who’d run into each other at the grocery store. It was, in a word, perfect.
So, today, I want to share with you the advice I used to get myself from total anxious fangirl mess to calm, collected, and completely prepared to have a quick, casual conversation with one of my heroes.
How to Have a Conversation with Anyone
(No Matter how Nervous You Are)
Whether it’s your favorite actor, that cute girl you’ve always wanted to talk to, the owner of the company you work for, or pretty much anyone else, the rules of conversation are generally the same. Rich or poor, famous or not, we all think and behave more or less the same way when it comes to talking and connecting with each other. That’s why the following tips are essentially universal. They’ll work in the office, at a coffee shop, or at a bar, party, or grocery store just as easily as they worked for me at the autograph signing.
#1 Expect Them to be Friendly
Some people are rude, dismissive, or downright mean. That can’t be helped. But expecting the worst isn’t going to do you any good and it certainly won’t make you any less nervous. Go into the interaction expecting them to be friendly and easy to talk to. If they prove to be otherwise, just use your exit strategy, which I’ll cover below.
#2 Know EXACTLY How You’re Going to Say Hello
While it might seem unnecessary and even silly to plan out exactly what words to use when saying hello, having an opening line can be surprisingly helpful. There are a lot of ways to greet someone. You probably use anywhere from 3 to 5 of them in your daily life, depending on who you’re talking to or where you are. Hey, Hi, Heya, Hello, What’s up, How’s it going, etc. It’s a choice we aren’t even usually aware of making, but it’s a choice nonetheless. And making a choice is the last thing you want to have to do when you’re nervous. So choose an opening line and stick with it. It’ll get the ball rolling with a minimum amount of effort and take off a little of the pressure.
#3 Have 2-3 Potential Conversation Topics Ready
If you know you’re going to have to talk to someone for a while (first dates, for example), this number should be a little higher. But if you’re striking up a conversation at random or for some reason HAVE to talk to someone, two or three topics is plenty. With fewer than that and you run the risk of having nothing to say if one of the topics is suddenly no longer an option or ends up being a dead end. And if you have more than 3, you end up having to make a choice. which, as I’ve said, you want to avoid doing when you’re nervous.
When coming up with your topics, consider who you’re talking to. If you know something about them, choose topics that you are likely to have in common. Otherwise, choose topics that are more or less universal. And above all, make sure your topics are positive. On occasion, negative comments can be used as icebreakers (standing in a long line at the DMV for example) but using them as actual topics rarely make for great conversation or good first impressions. So, avoid negative current events, politics, and anything that might make you seem grouchy or unpleasant.
For my conversation with David Tennant, I chose two topics:
The TARDIS drawing my niece made after seeing her first episode of Doctor Who when she was 7 (though she recently had a birthday). Both Kynlee and the drawing are adorable, so it was sure to get a smile. And…
The Funko Pop I’d brought for David to sign. It was both my first Funko Pop ever and my first autograph.
While neither of these facts would have been enough to base a full conversation on, they were enough for a 30 second chat.
Both topics worked perfectly because they were fairly universal as far as nerds and fandoms are concerned, positive, and perfectly suited to the situation.
#4 Focus on Something External
When you’re making a first impression or trying to get to know someone who doesn’t really know much about you, you want the focus to be on something other than the people involved in the conversation. Talk about yourself too much and you can come off as narcissistic and self involved. Talk about them and you can seem like you’re trying to gain their approval with flattery. Instead, pick something external and put the focus on that. Of course, if you do want to flatter them, try picking something of theirs and complimenting that. For example, you could compliment an item of clothing they are wearing, something they’ve made or done, something amusing or clever they’ve said, or something they had a part in.
Mentioning something you admire about them can be a nice addition to your introduction, (for example, “Hi, I’m Brinna. I loved your book!) but your conversation will be more meaningful if you avoid basing it solely on what you love about the person you are talking to. If you do talk about something they’ve done, made, or participated in, share why you personally enjoyed or connected with the project. What does it mean to you? What thoughts do you have to share about it? What questions do you have on the topic? While this can start with a compliment, it doesn’t have to be flattery or one-sided at all.
Likewise, you can tell them a little about yourself by talking about something you’ve participated in, something funny that happened to you, something you’re working on or making, etc. This allows you to talk about yourself without sounding like you’re bragging or talking yourself up.
Of course, you don’t need to dominate the conversation or force the interaction to go a certain way. Relax, and let the conversation flow in the most natural way possible. If the person you’re talking to brings up a topic you don’t expect, just go with it. If they bring up a topic you don’t know anything about, be honest with them. Everyone has topics they know little or nothing about. There’s no shame in that. In fact, your new friend might even be happy to teach you about something new and share their opinions on the matter. Not only does this take some of the pressure off of you, it allows them to talk about something they are interested in, improving the chance that they’ll want to keep talking to you.
#5 Bring a Prop
When you’re nervous, eye contact can be pretty intimidating. Bringing a prop of some sort can break up some of that tension by limiting eye contact and giving both of you something to look at besides each other. It doesn’t even have to be an actual item you’re carrying. It can be a photo, file, or website you’ve opened on your phone. Just make sure that your prop is easily accessible. If you have to scroll through 200 photos to find the one you’re looking for, your new friend is liable to get bored, lose interest, or even wander off entirely. Ouch! While waiting in line for my autograph, I scrolled through my Instagram to find the drawing my niece had done and took a screenshot. Then, I found a cute photo of her and screenshotted that as well. That way, both photos were lined up, one after the other, in the screenshots folder of my phone, allowing me to show one and then quickly swipe to show the other. Easy peasy.
#6 Have Your Contact Info Ready
In most cases, you’d like for the conversation to eventually lead to an exchange of contact information. Before going into the situation, decide what contact info you’d like to share. We live in a world of connections. Most of us have a wide variety of options when it comes to sharing contact information. What do you want to share? Your phone number, facebook, twitter, website, whatsapp, snapchat, battle tag, etc.? In most cases, it’s best to choose one or two of these.
When meeting David, giving him my contact information would have been weird. However, I did meet several people at the convention who I wanted to share my contact information with. So, before the con, I wrote a couple of my social media profiles on a little stack of Post-its that said “Hi, I”m Brinna,” along with the words “TARDIS Dress” in case they forgot who the random Post-it was from. As a result, I had several friend requests and just as many new facebook friends by the next morning. If you have business cards, make sure to have one on hand. Otherwise, choose a bit of contact info to share so you don’t have to choose one on the spot.
#7 Have an Exit Strategy
Even if all goes well, the conversation is eventually going to end. Just as you’d like to know how you want to say hello, it’s a good idea to know how you’re going to say goodbye. Generally, “it was nice to meet you/talk to you” works well in most situations, though you may want to include mentioning when you plan to see or speak to them again.
Of course, even the most carefully prepared for conversation can get derailed at a moment’s notice. They might be unfriendly or respond poorly to your topic ideas. You might suddenly realize that they’re not someone you want to talk to after all. In these cases, it pays to have an exit strategy. This can be as simple as, “It was nice to see you, but I have to go.” Can’t leave? Say you just remembered needing to text something to someone. Then say goodbye and spend the next few minutes doing something on your phone, even if it’s just texting someone to tell them about the conversation that just went terribly wrong.
#8 Don’t Overthink It
While a little planning can ease the anxiety, too much planning can actually add to the tension. You don’t need a script or series of plot points. As long as you have an introduction, a few topics on hand, and an idea of how you’re going to end the conversation, you should be prepared enough to get through the encounter. Just relax and go with the flow. You’ll do great.
#9 Show Them Your Better Side
We are all complex creatures with both good and bad qualities. When attempting to make a great first impression, you want to emphasize the good and minimize the bad. Try to be relaxed, positive, and likable, but above all, be YOU. There’s no need to pretend to be someone or something you’re not. They’ll either see through your façade right away, or worse, they’ll believe it to be who you really are and then feel betrayed when they find out that it was a lie. Be honest about your likes, dislikes, opinions, and beliefs if they come up, but don’t feel like you have to you have to put all of your negative traits or less desirable opinions out there all at once (don’t laugh, I’ve actually met people who do this!).
While you don’t want to pretend to be someone you’re not, you do want to show them the best version of yourself. Think about the traits that your friends, family members, and co-workers like about you and remind yourself of them whenever you need to make a good first impression. Having these traits at the front of your mind will help you in multiple ways. It will give you a nice little confidence boost, while also helping those traits to come out during the conversation. I’ve been told that my own charm comes from my friendliness, willingness to like people instantly, general optimism, and enthusiasm for the things I love. Whenever I need to make a great first impression, I remind myself of these things. This helps me go into even the most intimidating conversations or interactions believing that the person will like me, and most of the time, they do.
Never underestimate the power of a genuine, authentic smile. One of the great things about human nature is that when people smile at us, we tend to smile back, often without even realizing that we are doing so. Smiling can even make us happier, calmer, and more relaxed. Really! (You can read about it here.) So, whether you’re going into an interview, meeting someone for the first time, or just saying hello to a stranger, don’t forget to smile.
Putting it All Together
I’ll be honest with you. This post ended up being a bit longer than I meant for it to be. But there’s some good stuff here. These tips have helped me get through so many difficult or intimidating conversations and have helped me land new clients, make new friends, and even connect on an emotional level with people I never thought I’d even get the chance to meet. So, I’ll end this post with a quick summary.
When Meeting Someone New or Having an Intimidating Conversation:
- Expect to like them and expect them to like you
- Be yourself, but also try to show them the better side of your personality
- Have an opening line, closing line, and exit strategy (just in case)
- Choose 2-3 topics of conversation, but be willing to go with the flow if another topic comes up
- Focus on something external, like a prop
- And finally, relax! You’re going to do great!
Have a tip to add or a story to share? I’d love to hear it! Post your thoughts in the comment section below. Don’t forget to include your email address (it won’t be published) so I can get back to you! 🙂
And, as always, Stay Fearless!