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 social experience.
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, co-workers, or customers and clients. You may hang out with friends, your partner, or your family. 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.
If you can just find a way to put yourself in these situations a little more, then you can get even more practice time. 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 bit 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 employees around your age. 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 younger and just need some sort of job to make extra money, why not aim for one that will help your social skills too? Some examples are:
- Retail - Involves skills like approaching and helping customers in person, and learning to be pleasant and friendly. If you're helping someone for a longer time it's only natural you'll make some small talk
- Being a waiter - Same as above, more or less
- Bartending - Making chit chat with customers, at least when it's not super busy
- Working as a cashier - Having to make lots of quick small talk
- Customer service over the phone - It provides 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 - You'll be able to get to know everyone here and there through your shifs
A volunteer position that involves socializing
These could be longer-term roles you sign up for, and you may be allowed to drop in when you're able. Some volunteer positions give you opportunities you couldn't easily get through a job:
- Socializing with seniors - Lets you practice a mix of general conversation skills
- Canvassing/fundraising - This is similar to sales. You have to put yourself out there, and risk getting turned down
- Conversation exchanges with people learning your language - You can make simple chit chat, and there's less pressure on you since it's understood the exchange may be basic or halting at times
- A position assisting others (e.g., directing people to their seats at a film festival) - Being personable, making a bit of small talk
- A position where you get to educate people (e.g., going to various community centers and explaining what your agency does) - Public speaking skills
- A volunteer position that's similar to a regular job (e.g., doing reception or admin tasks) - Provides a chance to chat to your fellow volunteers
Any kind of hobby club, team or organization
If you're in a club with someone they often have to interact with you. When people want to meet new friends, "Join something" is a common piece of advice. If you're mainly after social practice it doesn't even matter whether you come away some new buddies. You're still getting conversation experience while the club is in session. Naturally, making friends is always a bonus, and there's no reason not to not work on that as well.
A social meet up
There are a variety of social and hobby-oriented Meetup.com groups in most 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 conversation 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.
A comedy or speaking class
I'm referring to a public speaking organization like Toastmasters or an improv comedy class. Toastmasters can help you feel more comfortable speaking to any group, not just a formal audience. An improv class could 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 day to day social interaction. 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 with someone you've just met. Similarly, playing wacky improv games isn't the same as spontaneous, conversational wittiness.
An acting class or a theater group
Acting also isn't totally analogous to everyday 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.
Traveling, and staying in busy hostels
I go into more detail in this article. Basically, if you travel by hopping from hostel to hostel you'll meet lots of friendly fellow tourists. You'll get really good at making new friends quickly, and by hanging around so many interesting people a part of them will rub off on you.
There's debate on how much interacting with people online can help you practice your social skills. In my experience it can help, but mostly if you try to make your online conversations as much like the real life version 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 toward it, I don't think it should be the only way you try to improve.
You could try any of the following:
- Video chatting with someone. This is fairly close to real life, even though there's technically distance and technology between everyone
- Voice chatting, e.g., while playing a game
- Text chatting with people while playing a game
- Text chatting with other viewers while watching a stream, e.g., on Twitch
- 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.
- Starting your own stream, and interacting with your viewers. No worries if the thought of putting yourself on public display like that makes you too nervous, but maybe your social insecurities are compartmentalized in a way where being a streamer is something you're comfortable with, and it's other situations that give you pause.
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 say more yourself and draw them into the discussion.
- Don't give yourself much time to think of 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 just works through text.
- Don't use flashy emojis 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 type 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. Speaking to people one one one is useful of course, but things like chatty team games can also get you acquainted with the dynamics of group conversations.
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 to it it opens up a lot of practice options. Whenever you feel like practicing you could go to busy, social places like a pub and start conversations with the other patrons. 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. Starting 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 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 their friend. If they have a dog they can go to the dog park and try to chat to the other owners.
I think this kind of thing can definitely help you if you're particularly nervous about approaching people or talking to anyone 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.
A support or social skills training group
Individuals or organizations in some cities run support or training groups for things like social anxiety or Autism Spectrum Disorder. Members get together, discuss their issues, and help each other out as best they can. 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 students 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 online calling services to reach lines outside your area. 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 don't take too much time from other callers.