The key to being interesting is to take an interest in other people.
Years ago I was at a party in New York where I didn’t really know anybody but my then-girlfriend. At some point we each went our own way and I found myself next to the bar with one of her friend’s boyfriends. I asked him what he did for a living. He said he was a futures trader.
Not knowing what that was, I asked him. He explained his work and I asked a bunch of questions and we talked for about a half-hour. It was a great conversation, with a lot of back-and-forth. To me it was interesting, but I’m curious about a lot of things. I also enjoy the challenge of figuring something out — dissecting and digesting a complex issue and finding a simpler way to frame it or a metaphor that captures it.
The next day my girlfriend got a call from his girlfriend. Apparently he thought I was great. He said nobody ever took a real interest in what he did for a living.
So I was a hit with everyone and scored a lot of points. (Not that that’s what it’s about.)
By contrast, a few years ago I ran into an old Second City instructor at a party and asked something innocuous like, “How are your doing?” He proceeded to tell me. For half an hour. And it was not a conversation — it was a monologue. Everything he’s been up to, all his latest projects.
I would occasionally make a comment and ask a question that would plunge him further into himself. Not once did he ask a thing about me, even though we hadn’t seen each other in several years.
Actors are notoriously and dangerously self-absorbed. (I should know!) For all the talk about being keen observers of human nature as a way of developing their craft, many of them just like to talk about themselves.
Of course, actors aren’t alone in this.
So a few lessons:
- If you’re ever at a networking event or party and you’re feeling shy or uncomfortable, just ask people questions. Most people love to talk about themselves. (The good ones will reciprocate and ask about you, too. But don’t count on it.)
- If you’re worried that nobody pays you the attention you deserve, ask yourself if you take the time to show interest in others.
- If you ever worry that maybe you’ve gone on too long about yourself, you probably have.
- If you find yourself in a conversation and you can’t get in a word edgewise, take comfort in the fact that you’re not the boor.
- Always have a drink in your hand. The urgent need to refresh it provides a perfect getaway.
And if you do get stuck, contemplate the rewards of listening patiently. You might just leave the party a hero.