12 December 2008

How to Talk Non-Stop Without Really Trying

There are certain people who never run out of conversation. They fall into two groups: the Endless Fonts of witty and thoughtful banter who, no matter how long they gabble on, never lose their steam or your interest; and the Dead-Air Fillers who will ramble on about any and all inane matters just to ward off the dreaded radio silence. Sadly, this last specimen is the more prevalent.

The Endless Fonts have always amazed me. I don't know how they do it. Call them raconteurs, conversationalists, whatever, they are artists of a sort. They have my admiration. The Dead-Air Fillers, meanwhile, tire me out rather quickly. Using a lot of words to express nothing exasperates me. I shut my brain off and just pretend to listen. For this reason I have never really examined why they talk so much; I'm too busy loudly wondering "Why do they talk so much?"

But faced with one such gabber the other day at the Tea Lounge in Cobble Hill, I decided to change my tack. She was not five feet away from me, and wouldn't shut up for two straight hours, so I decided to quietly study her conversation as best as I could and crack to secret to ceaseless yammering. Me? I've couldn't do it if I tried. I'll sometimes indulge in bursts of talk that will last 10 or 15 tight minutes, but mainly I lean to the laconic side. I have plenty of interesting thoughts, arriving by the minute, every minute; I just don't flatter myself that they're worth bothering another soul with. (It will come as no surprise to you that I hate talking on the phone for more than 30 seconds.)

Anyway, our Dead-Air Filler was a mother in her early 30s. Her attentive friend was another mother, with a striking resemblance Ellen DeGeneres. The talk was mainly of their kids and the kids' schooling and care. Typical Tea Lounge topics. The mother easily held up 90% of the conversation, and I am not exaggerating when I say that at no time did a full second of silence pass between one of her sentences and another. This lady could pack seven words into an instant.

Monitoring her, I came up with a sort of template for those who aspired to be Dead-Air Fillers. I'm not trying to be too judgmental here, though I admit these particular humans do get on my nerves if I'm exposed to them for too long. But there's no law against talking, and it's a positive social activity when all is said and done. So here we are, four rules to live by.

NOTHING IS UNIMPORTANT. If you wish to break chatting records, you must become comfortable with the idea that nothing is unimportant. Everything you think, everything that happens to you, and everything you think about the things that happen to you, is worth talking about. A gabber must never worry about boring the listener with what might be deemed as slight, mundane or insignificant details of one's life. Let it all fly! What you had for breakfast; how you ate it; who cooked it; what spoon you used; what coffee brand you prefer. Mention it all, and with an air that ever circumstance is potentially of great moment and might interest an eavesdropping biographer. Mothers are particularly good at this (fathers, too, but not as much); there's rarely anything that Junior does or says that isn't worthy of a short verbal essay.

REPETITION IS A VIRTUE: To successfully fill up every minute, you must not be afraid of repeating yourself. Redundancy is not the mark of a bore if you execute it creatively. Don't say the same sentence three times back to back, of course. But come back to it at various points in the monologue, and always vary the wording slightly, while keeping the thought basically the same. Hey: maybe your friend didn't hear it the first few times!

BE LOQUACIOUS: This goes without saying, of course. The talented Dead-Air Filler will know how to say in 100 words what would take an average person 10. Throw in those clauses, those parentheticals and footnotes. The greatest orators of time were long-winded, and so should you be. If you talk like Jack Webb, your coffee klatch will be over in 20 minutes.

STAY ANIMATED: If you want your audience to be rapt by what you're saying, you can never look bored yourself. Your face must be alive with interest and curiosity. Act as if you've never heard or thought of the stuff that's pouring out of your mouth. It's all new news! Think of the stage performer. When the actors look as if they're have a ball up there, the ticketholders are all the more delighted. And laughing helps. You're not talking, but you're still making noise, and it's hard not to pay attention to laughter.

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