“The key to being a good conversationalist is probably a genuine unselfish interest in others. That, and practice.” -Frank Crane
In the Academy Award-winning picture The King’s Speech, there’s a scene where speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) asks King George IV (Colin Firth), a chronic stammerer, “Do you know any jokes?”
The king hesitates. “Eh…ehm…” he stammers. “T-timing isn’t my strong suit,” he laughs darkly.
A lot of people have a difficult time with conversations with strangers, even acquaintances. I know I do. As Cal Fussman once penned: “We all know the feeling of wanting to do something so well and so badly that we try too hard and can’t do it at all.”
20 years since speech therapy lessons in 3rd grade for my stuttering and stammering, I still find myself talking too fast. I mumble. I make jokes no one can hear, then laugh awkwardly to cover it up. People rarely laughed during conversations with me — they were busy trying to understand what I was even saying.
For a long time, I decided it’d be best if I said as little as possible when meeting strangers (plus, that way I could increase my “mysterious” factor).
But I’ve worked hard to become a better conversationalist. I find I can make people laugh easier than before. I might still stutter (still working on that) and I still have trouble pronouncing “remember” and “statistic.” But for the most part, I feel comfortable and calm in conversations.
Here’s what I’ve learned after 20 years of bungling conversations and still making people laugh.