We’ve all known people who won’t stop talking about themselves.

They fill every coffee meeting with anecdotes about their accomplishments. They stuff weekend BBQ get-togethers with too-loud retellings of their favorite high-school high jinx. They are the group that make us all worry about other’s perceptions and live in fear of being categorized as “THAT guy.”

But on the other hand, you might be one of those people who is not very good at talking about you at all. You worry so much about sounding like a windbag, you keep too quiet. And this is no good either. It’s hard to connect with others when you don’t reveal anything about yourself.

For those like that, I offer this piece of advice:

The best way to talk about YOU is to talk about OTHER PEOPLE.

Let me explain: I don’t care how humble you think you are, every story you tell is ultimately about you.

It comes from your perspective, with your experience, is baked in your sense of humor and slathered with your personal style. Whether the story is about your first kiss or that episode of that show you watched last night, the details are painting a picture of who you are.

So the key? Cultivate your story through the best collection of characters.

Just today, a new guy at work asked me to say a little about myself. The first inclination was to fire off biographical details – “I was born in Cincinnati!” But that just led to a geographical tangent that was boring for both of us. The conversation almost stalled until this tangent led to me saying, “My dad was a preacher.” Suddenly we had lift off.

My dad is a great character. I look just like him, we think the same way most of the time. He taught me an amazing love for reading and how to dote over a woman. He once had a 1978 Volkswagen Bug convertible given to him and it was in that car that I fell in love with The Beatles. You can see, he provides LOTS of story potential. But if I stop and tell you any of those stories, you learn a lot about him – but potentially WAY more about me.

The same thing goes for my best pal, Kent. This morning, my dental hygienist was making small talk about being talked into buying a ShamWow. Kent once made a staggering annual income by being a ShamWow salesman at a shopping mall in a tourist town. Not only that, because he is tall and has spiky blonde hair, lots of folks mistook him for being the actual guy from the infomercial.

It’s a wacky story, but it led to more stories about Kent (dude stole multiple girls from me in high school totally by accident) and kept conversation bubbling.

See how this works?

Of course, it is worth reminding that ultimately conversation is give and take. The importance of listening instead of talking in many situations can never be overstated. But let the preacher’s kid quote Ecclesiastes in closing: “There is a time for everything… A time to be silent and a time to speak.”

Make sure you’re optimizing your turn to talk by optimizing the characters you have in your life.


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