Places Where Can Practice Making Conversation And Generally Work On Your Social Skills
This site stresses how important it is to practice your social and conversation skills. Below I'll cover some places where you can purposely seek out experience in socializing with people. .
Your day-to-day life
Unless you're really isolated, you'll find yourself in several social situations each day. You'll have to talk to classmates, customers, or co-workers. You may hang out with friends or your partner. You'll run into people you know. These are all good practice opportunities, especially if you view them that way and consciously try to get something out of them, instead of just interacting on autopilot.
And if you can just find a way to put yourself in these situations a little more, then you can get even more practice time in. Try to make a bit more small talk than normal with the people at your job, or start having lunch with them if you don't already. Hang out with your friends for a little longer. If you normally hold back in conversations, try to take part more. Without getting too caught up in over-analysis, purposely pay attention to what you're doing, and to what works and what doesn't.
A job that involves socializing
You can get a lot of practice from having a part-time job that forces you to generally be sociable, or to learn and apply specific skills. Another benefit is that the position may have a lot of other people around your age working there. When it comes to your real career, whether you can get social practice from it should be far from your main concern, but if you're in college and need a throwaway job to make some money, why not do something that will help your social skills too? Some examples are:
- Retail - Approaching and helping customers in person, learning to be pleasant and friendly
- Being a waiter - Same as above, more or less
- Bartending - Making chit-chat with customers
- Working as a cashier - Having to make small talk with lots of people
- Customer service over the phone - Again, general experience talking to people, and also learning to deal with more tense situations
- Sales (in person or over the phone) - Learning to be personable, assertive, and persuasive, and handle nerves and rejection
- Any job where you have tons of co-workers, like a call center - Good chance to meet people
A volunteer position that involves socializing
Same idea as above. Some volunteer positions give you opportunities you couldn't easily get through a job:
- Socializing with seniors or the homeless - Generally making conversation, listening, etc.
- Canvassing/fundraising - Similar to sales. You have to put yourself out there, and risk getting turned down
- Working on a crisis support line - Listening skills, conversation skills
- A position assisting others (e.g., directing people to their seats at a film festival) - Being friendly, making small talk
- A position where you get to educate people (e.g., going to various community centers and explaining what your agency does) - Confidence, presentation skills
- A volunteer position that's similar to a regular job (e.g., doing reception of admin tasks) - Provides a chance to chat to co-workers
Any kind of club, team or organization
If you're in a club with someone they have to interact with you. When a person wants to make friends, "Join something" is a common piece of advice. In this case, if what you're after is social practice, it doesn't even matter as much whether you come away from the experience with some new buddies. You're still getting social experience when you're around people during the hours the club is in session. Naturally, making friends is always a bonus, and there's no reason not to try to practice that as well.
A meet up
There are a variety of generally social and hobby-oriented Meetup.com meet up groups in many major cities. Many people go to them to make friends, or to take part in a particular activity, but there's nothing stopping you from going simply to get some conversational practice in.
By texting people throughout the day
Texting isn't that comparable to true conversation, but it's still something. These days you don't have to physically be around your friends and acquaintances to chat to them. Through text you can catch up on each other's days, make jokes, and even discuss more serious issues.
I go into more detail about it more in this article: How Traveling Can Boost Your Social Skills. Basically, backpacking involves meeting lots of new people, and often going out and having fun with them. You'll get really good at making new friends quickly, and by hanging around so many interesting people, part of that will rub off on you.
A comedy or speaking class
I'm referring to a public speaking organization like Toastmasters or an improv comedy class. I've heard lots of good things about Toastmasters, and something like a comedy course would help you to become more confident and think on your toes.
While there's still a ton you can learn, one thing to note is that these classes teach a fairly specialized set of performance or presentation-focused skills, and not every last thing will transfer to more day-to-day social interactions. There are people who are great on stage, but still a tad awkward in real life. It's one thing to perform a prepared speech. It's another to have an interesting back and forth dialogue with someone you've just met. Similarly, playing improv games isn't the same as spontaneous, conversational wittiness.
An acting class or a theater group
Acting also isn't totally analogous to day-to-day interactions, but some awkward people have said it helped them become more comfortable with socializing. It let them rehearse and get used to having conversations, but took the sense of risk away because their dialogue was written for them. It also gave them a safe space to try out new behaviors and ways of expressing themselves. They were just playing a character after all.
There's some debate on how much interacting with people online can help you practice your conversation skills. In my experience it can help, but mostly if you try to make your online socializing as much like real-world socializing as you can. The online world has its own rules and conventions, and if you stick to them you won't get as much benefit, or even unintentionally teach yourself some bad habits. You probably won't be surprised to hear me say that while I think online practice can supplement real-life experience, or be a baby step towards it, I don't think it should be the only way you try to improve.
You could try any of the following:
- Voice chatting with someone, while you have a webcam set up. This is probably the way to practice online that's closest to the real world
- Voice chatting, e.g., while playing a game
- Text chatting with friends and acquaintances through Instant Messaging apps
- Text chatting with people while playing a game
- Text chatting with strangers in a public chat room (they're not as popular as they once were, and you'll run into plenty of cretins, but they still may be worth a shot).
- Interacting with people on discussion boards or through comment threads. This is getting pretty far from the 'real world', but could still have its uses.
Like I said, when you deliberately practice your conversation skills online, try to make the experience as much as true to life as possible:
- When chatting, type out complete sentences, not short, clipped ones. Write what you'd say in real life. It's just my taste, but I try to avoid the lol, brb style abbreviations and misspelling as well. Make your brain think this is a real-world conversation.
- Try to carry your weight in the conversation. Don't answer someone else's question with "good u?" If the other person isn't speaking much then try to speak more yourself and draw them into the discussion.
- Don't give yourself much time to think out your response. Spit it out quickly.
- Don't refer to internet in-jokes and memes that you'd never be able to use in real life. Assume you're talking to someone who doesn't know about that stuff. Don't use a style of humor that would only fly online, or that only works through text.
- Don't use flashy smileys or post funny images, animations, or links to pad out your conversations.
- Avoid that online obnoxiousness if you're prone to it. You know, don't be more brash than you would in real life, and don't say anything you wouldn't say to someone's face.
- Even if a certain way of interacting would work better to get somewhere with someone online, try to act like it's real life anyway.
I'm sure that's more detail than most people will need. You get the idea, pretend you're using real-life rules, even if the other person doesn't play along. One-on-one is good of course, but busy chat rooms can also get you acquainted with the dynamics of group conversations. Don't hang back, try to get in there.
By going out alone to a place where people socialize
Most people feel awkward and exposed when they go out alone, but if you can get accustomed it opens up a lot of practice options. Whenever you feel like practicing you could go to busy, social places like a music hall, pool hall, or pub and start conversations with the patrons there. You could also try to chat to people at more one-off events like book readings or comedy shows. Going out solo it can be tricky though, so don't feel it's something you have to do.
By chatting to strangers in public
This is a funny one. If you broke down the average person's social activities, talking to strangers wouldn't be a gigantic part of it. Initiating interactions with people you don't know can also be pretty hard. It can make you feel nervous, and you sometimes have to be pretty good at holding a conversation or overcoming the other person's wariness. Still, some people who want to practice their social skills will go somewhere like a mall or bar and try making quick, friendly chit-chat with whoever they come across. For example, at a store they might get people's opinions on what present to buy someone, or ask a pub patron about the game that's on TV.
I think this kind of thing can definitely help you if you're particularly nervous about approaching people or talking to someone you don't know. It can help you learn to think on your feet and make conversation-starting small talk. It's also useful in the sense that if you're up for it, there's always somewhere to go to practice for a bit. I don't think you have to do this though. There are lots of other ways to get time interacting with people.
Random tip: If you have a dog it's pretty easy to end up speaking to lots of people (maybe offer to walk someone else's?). Another random thought: This is probably easier in a smaller town, as the people are probably more open and friendly. On the other hand, a city offers more people to potentially chat up.
A support or social skills training group
Individuals or organizations in some cities run support or training groups for things like social anxiety or Asperger's Syndrome. Support groups involve the members getting together, discussing their issues, and helping each other out. Just by being around other people there's an opportunity to get some social experience. Training groups more deliberately teach social skills. They include role plays and exercises where the members can practice interactions in a low-risk environment. Groups can either be entirely support or training-oriented, but they're often a mix of the two. This article goes into more depth:
Using the services of an anonymous crisis support line
Most of the callers to crisis support lines aren't suicidal. Many just want someone to talk to. The trained volunteers who man the phones are happy to oblige and easy to speak to. You could use these lines as safe way to get used to making conversation. You may be able to use free services like Google Voice to call lines outside of your area at no cost. If you do call a support line though, don't phone too often and limit your conversation to around ten minutes. If you get a message saying the line is getting a lot of calls try again at a less busy time. It's okay to use these services as a social support, but they're often low on staff and resources, so be responsible and take steps not to overtax them and take time from other callers.