Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The art of not being boring

One of my favorite writers, who uses the pseudonym The Z Man, explains how to save your friends from your boring self.
When telling a story in a social setting, you should always have a point. No one cares about what you had for lunch, unless it was something bizarre or unusual. If you had a delicious turkey club for lunch, that’s not something anyone wants to know. Now, if the waiter stripped naked and ran screaming into the street after serving you that delicious turkey club, then you have a story with a point. That’s an amusing tale.

Your stories and anecdotes don’t have to be amusing. Not everyone is a comedian. What’s important is you have some reason for telling the story. This is a courtesy to the listener. By having a point, you are showing respect to the listener, whether it it by sharing information with them or making them laugh with an amusing story. When your stories are pointless recitations of mundane events, you are, whether you realize it or not, insulting the audience. At the minimum, you are wasting their time, which is just as bad.

You should also avoid unnecessary details. That story about the waiter stripping down and running into the street is a good example. If you spend five minutes describing the menu and the turkey sandwich, then thirty seconds on the naked man, you made an amusing tale into misery for your listeners. Sure, a little setup to the big reveal is a good way to create tension, but a little goes a long way. In a social setting, a good story is one that avoids extraneous details and never lasts more that three or four minutes.

Never explain the obvious. This is the most common error boring people make when telling a story. For some reason, they think they need to explain what everyone on earth has known since childhood. In the case of our turkey club, the boring person will actually explain what he means by turkey club or maybe even talk about the history of the turkey club. When in doubt, skip it. If people need more detail, they will ask.

Never tell a story that requires a back story. Boring people often start a story that should last three minutes, then veer into a long back story that they think is necessary to appreciate the tale. For example, the they will veer into a story about how they met their lunch companion in the turkey club story. The result is a dull story about the lunch companion, plus a dull description of lunch and the details of a turkey club. This is misery for listeners.

The boring also have a funny habit of talking over people. They ignore the little things others do to signal to the the boring that they need to stop talking. The boring are strangely competitive in their dullness. If you notice people starting to speak as soon as you take a breath, that they start looking at their phones or start looking around the room for familiar faces, you are the boring guy. You are not going to improve this situation by talking louder or talking over any interruptions. Take the hint and wrap up your story.

Always invite others to tell their story or comment on the topic of conversation. People will find your turkey club story more interesting if you showed interest in their lunch story. A little active listening goes a long way. It not only keeps you from droning on about the delicious turkey club you had the other day, it makes you seem more interesting to others. Boring people are selfish people, in that they are only interested in their point of view, in far too much detail.

Finally, if it is a story you tell often and the listener is someone you know well, assume you told them the story, because you almost certainly did. Start with “If I told this before, stop me” or maybe, “I probably told this story before…” This gives them the right to stop you from boring them with the 80th retelling. This is not just a courtesy to the listener. It actually makes you seem more interesting, because you are not focused on yourself, but on the listener. This is flattering to the listener and and they will think better of you for it.
Now let me tell you about these new shoes.

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