I used to be terrified of being boring. Networking events made me wonder if my small talk sucked. Coffee meetings were similarly nerve-wracking. And when I talked during team meetings, a single yawning co-worker could make me forget my point. But then, I started paying attention to how the most interesting people around me held others’ attention. I realized that just like you could learn to be a better leader or more effective negotiator, you could learn to be more engaging.
And that’s awesome news for your career. When you’re interesting, everyone you meet—from your boss to your future business partner—wants to be around you. Not only will you make more connections, but those relationships will be easier to maintain and strengthen. To reap these benefits, check out the six ways to become a more interesting person. (Bonus: You’ll never fear small talk again.)
1. Pursue Interesting Topics That Have Nothing to Do With Your Career
Last week, I spent roughly 10 minutes explaining to a product manager why I’d shown up to a two-hour session about a profession I’d never tried and probably never would. “I’m just curious about package design,” I told him. The truth is, I regularly go to meetups and talks on topics that are completely unrelated to my ambitions. 90% of the time I end up learning a bunch of cool new things—giving me some great conversation fodder.
For instance, at that packaging panel, I learned manufacturers spray a coffee aroma onto the lids of their instant coffee jars so you get a whiff of java when you open one. I also discovered bubble wrap’s original purpose was textured wallpaper. Fun facts aren’t the only thing you’ll take away—you’ll learn how to talk to virtually anyone and expose yourself to new ideas. So, hop on Meetup.com or Eventbrite and start looking for events you’d normally never attend. Or, if going to an event isn’t feasible, make an effort to read articles or nonfiction books that you wouldn’t normally be drawn to.
2. Have a “Yes” Month
If you want to become more interesting immediately, borrow Daily Muse Editor-in-Chief Adrian Granzella Larssen’s trick. Larssen makes a point of saying yes to every invitation she gets, no matter how random, unappealing, or exhausting it sounds. The great part about doing this? You literally can’t lose. When you end up at the inevitable dud, you’ll walk away with a story. When your experience takes a turn you were never expecting, you’ll walk away with an even better story. And when everything goes as planned, you’ll have a cool anecdote about, say, the Q-tip millionaire you met while playing Frisbee or the cave expedition you went on.
The idea of accepting every request might sound exhausting — especially if you’re an introvert, like Larssen. She copes by giving herself a firm time limit (usually one to two months). After your “yes” period is up, you can go back to being more selective with your time.
3. Try an Experiment
It’s nearly impossible to resist articles like, “I Gave Up Social Media for a Month and Here’s What Happened,” or “The Three Weeks I Spent Eating Only Hot Dogs.” These are compelling because, well, people doing out-of-the-ordinary things always are. Giving yourself a challenge is therefore guaranteed to make you more interesting. And there’s no reason your experiment has to be unpleasant. Emily O’ Mara, a software consultant at Oracle, ate 101 cheeseburgers in her mission to find the most delicious. Writer Kevin Roose, meanwhile, documented his attempts to create the perfect morning wake-up.
However, if you want to be more interesting and more productive, consider a more traditional challenge. Ideas include temporarily renouncing caffeine or alcohol, turning off your phone after work, or eating lunch away from your desk every day for a week. From the process to the results, you’ll have plenty to talk about. (Just don’t proselytize — telling people they must stop drinking coffee is the opposite of interesting.)
4. Listen to Podcasts
Lastly, I’ve noticed my conversations with fascinating people are always filled with “I heard on this podcast …” or “According to this episode of [podcast] …” It makes sense: Podcasts are chock-full of surprising stories, details, and facts, so listening to them gives you an awesome source of topics.
Plus, they’re the perfect alternative (or complement) to books. You can’t read while you walk your dog or run errands, but you can easily stream an episode of say, Planet Money. I recommend listening to a healthy mix of topics you’re interested in and topics you’re unfamiliar with. For instance, roughly 50% of my subscriptions focus on tech, business, design, and social psychology: in other words, my core interests. The other 50% is completely random, ranging from food and film to Disneyworld and architecture.
Striking this balance gives me a fountain of information on almost every topic—meaning it’s far easier to talk to people with different interests. (Need some suggestions? Check out 51 awesome podcasts you’ll want to download right now.)
5. Learn New Facts
Interesting people tend to know trivia for every occasion. Maybe you order a charcuterie board, and they announce there’s a bank in Italy with a vault just for Parmesan cheese. Or you spot a wild deer, and they tell you about the British crew that kept a live reindeer on their boat for six weeks during World War Two.
These facts are interesting—so you automatically think of the people providing them as interesting, too. As a bonus, a relevant but surprising piece of information never fails to spark a fun conversation. I’ve built up a mental repository of trivia by subscribing to Now I Know, a daily email newsletter for strange-but-true facts. You can also buy a trivia calendar. Or follow writer A.J. Jacob’s lead, and read the encyclopedia. It might sound tedious, but you’d be surprised at how much entertainment is packed between A-ak and Zyzzyva.
6. Listen More
It might sound counterintuitive, but the most compelling people spend a lot of time not speaking. Listening to others makes you more interesting for a couple reasons. First, you pick up a ton of interesting information—which you can then use down the road with different people. For example, a couple months ago I met a woman who’d grown up in a remote Alaskan fishing village. She told me tons of cool tidbits; as result, when I met a CEO who’d just gotten back from Anchorage, I had a long mental list of potential questions and conversation starters.
In addition, talking only 30 to 40% of the time guarantees that you won’t accidentally ramble. It can be tricky to tell when the other person is going from “engaged” to “bored but politely pretending otherwise.” If you naturally stop before this point, they’ll find you far more compelling.
And the final reason? As Dale Carnegie pointed out in How to Win Friends and Influence People, everyone’s favorite subject is themselves. Ironically, putting the conversational focus on them will you seem more interesting. As you can tell, being interesting isn’t effortless—it actually takes a lot of hard work. But once you start captivating everyone you meet, that hard work will definitely pay off.