Great conversations won’t begin unless one takes a chance, ignores the little voice in the head yelling, “You can’t do this”, stiffles the fear, and dives in. There’s more to just those things as author Patrick Allen writes:
Some folks have the gift of gab and know exactly how to run a conversation in a group setting, but some of us feel as if we’re being ignored. Here are a few tips to help you jump into a group conversation and actually be a part of it.
Accept the Reality of Group Conversations
If you feel like you struggle to be heard, there’s a good chance that a lot of it comes from your own mind. You might think that it’s important for you to sound intelligent or funny, but a group conversation in most social situations is a mess. Chris MacLeod, founder of the web site Succeed Socially, suggests you see a group conversation for what it really is:
I think what sometimes bothers people about chaotic, boisterous group conversations is that they feel they could have been something else, but they weren’t. They could have been more polite and organized, but they weren’t. They could have been more intellectual and stimulating, but they weren’t. They could have been quiet and easy to follow, but they weren’t. The other people could have let you get a word in edgewise, but they didn’t.
There’s no need for you to ever get down on yourself because people talked over you or someone didn’t get your joke. Group conversations are, as MacLeod explains, a “vortex of noise and chaos.” You’re probably not going to have any in-depth, philosophical debates, and everyone involved will probably remember very little of how it all went down. Remember, people think about you a lot less than you might think. Everyone is interrupting each other, people are talking at the same time, and the topic will constantly change. Change your perspective on the whole ordeal and swooping in with a clever anecdote may come easier for you. It’s a pool full of splashing kids, having a good time, so take off the floaties and dive in.
Consider Your Positioning and Jump In
If you’re ready to take the dive, consider where you want to situate yourself. You want to give yourself as much of an advantage as you can, so don’t hang around the outer fringes of a conversation. Jenni B. Baker at the Goodwill Blog, suggests that your position visibly demonstrates how big a part you’ll play:
It’s easier to be left out of the conversations if you’re sitting at the end of the table. Positioning yourself near the center not only puts you in the middle of the conversation flow, but also subliminally reinforces that you’re central to the discussion at hand.
Sit near the center, jump into the circle, and face the majority of the group whenever possible. If it looks like you’re not a part of the conversation, then you won’t be.
Check Your Body Language and Be a Good Listener
Body language is a huge factor of any social situation. Look in the mirror and take some time to see how you look when sit and stand comfortably. Do you look like you want to be social? If not, practice a more open style of body language. If you don’t show that you have something to say, people may never realize it.
Avoid crossing your arms, constantly looking down, fidgeting, and looking around for no particular reason. Lea McLeod at The Muse recommends practicing a “neutral listening pose” to ensure that you look open-minded and ready to talk:
I was once taught to listen without making any facial expression, including nodding or smiling. I’m not talking about a blank, eyes-glazed-over look; I’m talking about a neutral facial expression that simply says, “I’m listening.” Often, when you’re listening to someone, there’s a natural tendency to physically react to what he or she is saying, instead of simply letting it sink in.
Maintaining non-creepy eye contact and nodding occasionally can help show that you really are listening. Now, the hard part: really listen. Try not to zone out or start formulating your own response while somebody else is talking, especially if it’s obvious that they’re including you in the conversation.
Choose a Tactic: Speak Loud or Speak Quietly
Depending on the conversation and the people involved, different tactics may be required. Generally, a big group conversation at a party or other social event will be loud and boisterous. In that case, talking too softly will ensure that you end up talking to yourself. Dig deep, use your diaphragm, and project your words so you know that everyone can hear you. It’s possible that people seem to talk over you because they don’t hear you, or feel that you weren’t passionate enough about what you were trying to say so they cut in. Speak loud and speak proud.
Not every group conversation involves a drink in hand, however. Group conversations at work, in quiet areas, or at a professional gathering may require a different approach. Eduard at My Super Charged Life suggests you be quieter instead of louder to get attention:
…the problem is not that people can’t hear you. It’s that you don’t communicate power and thus, you don’t hold their attention. The trick is to speak deeply, in a low voice which has a certain resonance, and to do this without reflecting nervousness. This communicates to other people that you have confidence in the value of your words and you expect them to listen to you.
Lower your voice in tone and volume and use physicality to help show that you have something that needs to be heard. The key is that you express yourself with authority so your volume may not be as important.
Politely Interrupt and Prevent Yourself from Being Interrupted
Yes, you should be a good listener, but a group conversation is war. You need to know when to be civil, but you also need to know when to strike. Sometimes the only way to get a word in edgewise is by interrupting. Unfortunately, every group is different, so knowing when you can get away with interrupting varies. The only way to know for sure is to take risks and practice. If you try your best to be polite, you can find the right timing and eventually become an expert at interjecting. Keep things light, apologize, and use humor to disarm them if you’re able. If you have a friend in the conversation already, jump in when they’re talking or use them as a way to get your foot in the door.
You won’t be the only one to try to interrupt, so don’t feel too bad. When others try to interrupt you, pick your battles. If you feel like you were saying something sort of important—or really wanted to get to a funny part of a story—say that you’d like to finish your thought. There’s no need to be a pushover, so find a way to say what you want to say, as long as it’s within reason. Be polite, but firm. Smile and remember, pleases and thank you’s go a long way.