The Light of My Life teases me.  He says my eyeballs are getting square.  A Luddite of the most determined kind – the man doesn’t even own a phone – he worries that this one-eyed monster, my computer, will eat my days and steal me away from Life-Its-Own- Self.


Apparently, he has cause for concern.  A couple of years ago, teacher Paul Barnwell wrote a thought-provoking article in The Atlantic magazine. He noticed that his students (juniors in high school), didn’t know how to have a face-to-face conversation.

I have a hard time imagining this.  I come from a culture that values connection and takes for granted a certain gracefulness in our encounters-of-the-face-kind.

Every so often I’ll meet an old friend who will bust out the pidgin and exclaim, “Ho, Netta!  Some long time I nevah see your face!”

We laugh and fall into catching up with each other’s lives again as easily as walking into another warm hug.

That ease of communication is partly due to history and familiarity.  Old friends don’t need to spend a lot of effort falling into Friend-Space.  You know you’re accepted for who you are because the two of you have done a heck of a lot of silly, possibly embarrassing, things together.

“day 249 Talk Story” by Makena Zayle Gadient via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]


Skilled conversation is also due to practice, I am thinking.

People who are good at talking tend to talk a lot.  They may be opinionated or dramatically expressive or grand storytellers. They might just like hearing themselves talk and, if they’re really good, they know how to make that interesting for their listeners as they do it.

That takes a lot of practice.

Those who are good at being silent don’t talk so much but they don’t really have to.  There isn’t that unattractive, overweening need to “audition” and to fill the air with noise just to prove they are there.

Because they are comfortable in their silence, the quiet ones allow others to be comfortable with it too.  That takes practice too.


I grew up in a large extended family on a very small island where ignoring other people was the height of rudeness.

Going shopping along the main street of town could take hours.  You pretty much had to stop and talk story with everybody you passed on the street (as well as wave or acknowledge the other people who were farther away) or run the risk of being considered arrogant or stuck-up.

“Shaka!” by Kanaka Rastamon via Flickr [CC BY-NC 2.0]
As youngsters, we learned how to talk story.  We hung out with each other and we talked.  We learned how to be quiet together.  We learned how to throw quick quips and exit on a laugh.

We learned to smile and wave to all the aunties and uncles and ask after their families.

We talked to the neighbors, to assorted salesclerks, and to everybody else we met on the street.

We were good at talking story.

Even though our world has gotten full of other folks who just got off the plane or who come from other less communicative places, we can still do face-time pretty well.


If your whole world is made up of texting and words scrolling across screens, and all that, sometimes your mouth goes into sleep mode. It’s good to practice the face-thing and try to develop better skills at talking-story.

(Hey…it can even help you get a job or put together collaborations and projects and other good stuff like that.)

Family is a good place to start.  So are familiar strangers.

Think of the people you encounter across sales counters.  Acknowledge them, laugh with them, take a moment to pay a compliment or give them a kind word and it opens a new level of comfortable.

You become a person, not a number.  How cool is that?

One of the best YouTube videos I’ve seen on this is radio host Celeste Headlee’s TEDTalk, “10 Ways To Have a Better Conversation.”  In it, she says, she’ll teach you how to “be a good interviewer.”

It is, she says, what good conversation is.  When we talk-story, we try to step into each other’s worlds and find out more about them.

To reiterate Headlee’s tips:

  • Don’t multi-task. Be present.
  • Don’t pontificate. Assume that you have something to learn.
  • Use open-ended questions that can’t be answered by a “yes” or “no.” Say, “What was that like?”  Say, “How did that feel?”  See where that takes you.
  • Go with the flow. Follow where the conversation leads you.
  • If you don’t know, say so. No shame.
  • Don’t equate your experience with theirs. Your story may be nothing like their story.  (Good conversations are not scar and wound competitions.  Nobody gets a prize for being the most hurt.)
  • People don’t care whether you get every single nitpicky detail right. What they care about is you – who you are, how you feel about something, what you’re doing and so on.  That’s the same stance you need to take too.
  • Pay attention.
  • Be brief.

The best conversations are the ones that take you into other worlds that give you new insights and inspire you.  They happen when you are prepared to be amazed by all the heartful people around you.


You do have to make allowances for your own innate limitations.  If you tend to go into severe overwhelm when surrounded by crowds of people, it might be better if you stick to one-on-one talks when you’re in analog world.

Here’s a poem that grew out of a weekend of me doing the networking dance at some industry conference or other.

All the small talk and inane posturings and glad-handing got to me after a while.  By the second day, my brain just sort of lay there, gasping, slumped over and drained.

“Social Network” by Kevin Dooley via Flickr [CC BY-2.0]
(I did get a poem out of it so it wasn’t a total waste of time….)


Sometimes I cannot speak.

The words I need are dreaming

Deep down below the sea inside me

And it takes time to retrieve them.


I need stillness to get to them,

To dive down and find where

They are clinging to the rocks

In underwater caves.


It makes for sporadic conversation

And long, long pauses.


If I try to force it, churning and

Floundering all around,

What comes out sounds stupid –

Childish, incoherent.


Nothing hangs together right.



I have always envied the ones

Whose words are all

Laid out in neat rows on long shelves

(Probably categorized…and labeled, even.)


All THEY have to do is grab them up

And gift them to people easily.

They can do the small-talk game,

Easy fitting-in among any crowd.


Maybe they even have some neat

Pyrotechnical wonders

They can grab up and shoot off

To wow the Peanut Gallery.


Their words always seem to make a lot of sense.

(Until you think about them some)

And then they turn out to be breaths of air

Manipulated by clever tongues and teeth.


At their worst, the words are little more

Than those pressed-lips farts we used to make as kids.



Talking slow and deep is not so bad.

by Netta Kanoho

Header picture credit: “Talking Story” by Georgia via Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]

Thanks for your visit.  I’d appreciate it if you’d drop a comment or note below and tell me your thoughts.














34 thoughts on “TALKING STORY

  1. Interesting article. It’s not often you find articles on how to speak to and interact with others. As a financial professional, I’m expected to have the proper bedside manner and ability to talk and relate to others. It’s not as easy as some people make it seem, and sometimes I wonder if it’s just something I’ll never really be that good at. On the other hand, I’ve been getting better by following the lead of others, and it does seem like something that can be learned. Thanks for the great read!

    1. Hey Steve:

      Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts. Practice helps…really. So does being genuinely interested in the other person. You lose your self-consciousness when you get interested in what the other person has to say.

      Please do come again….

  2. What an interesting article. Your ideas and suggestions are spot on. I especially liked the video but I also liked that you reiterated the points of the video just after it in the article.

    I am not the best conversationalist and when I do get started I tend to talk too much. This article has given me some good ideas on how to fix those things.

    This was very informative and educational and anyone reading this will certainly learn something.

    1. Hey Frank: Thank for your visit. I am glad it was a help for you. Please do come again….

  3. Hi Netta, very cool article.

    I agree, technology is great but it does have an adverse effect on our ability to interact on a more natural, physical level.

    I don’t consider myself to be a highly extrovert person. For instance, I’ve never enjoyed being part of a large group. However, in smaller groups or one-on-one, that’s when I usually come into my own.

    Also, when I go shopping, I do like to exchange a few words with the sales assistants – a quick joke, maybe, or a lighthearted observation. Life’s too short to always be walking around in silence looking grim and depressed 😉

    1. Hey Al: 

      Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I do agree, life’s way to short to do the Zombie! 

      Please do come again!

  4. Thank you for an educational article. I enjoyed the video and how you did the recap after. I cannot call myself an extrovert person, but I have my limits when it’s about a conversation. I really appreciate the open questions and where a discussion can lead.

    Depends on the mood, I engage in small chit-chats when going shopping or commuting. Sometimes I emerge in a conversation, and after a while, I just listen, it seems that I do not have things to say. I think that listening is another way of conversation, right?

    1. Dany, thanks for your visit and for your comments.

      I agree with you that listening is another way of conversation.  What I find most amazing is that every time I just listen and respond to someone else’s stories they always tell me I am a great conversationalist.  (Hee!)   Funny the way that works….

      Please do come again.

  5. Cath Anon says:

    This is a great post … a gentle one … but with a strong message.  

    I once went to a restaurant where there were 6 friends having dinner.  For the whole 2 hours we were there, we rarely saw them speak.  They were all on their mobiles.  And they stood as one to take photos of their dishes.  Then they sat back down and continued with their mobile tasks while eating.  It saddened me that an apparent group of friends (6 is a decent size) were unable to have a face-to-face dinner conversation.  They seemed to be missing out on an essential social skill.  One more important then their online social skills.

    Your poem is empowering – to those that talk a lot and to those that talk nought 🙂 … I very much appreciate your sharing.  Thank you.

    1. Cath, I do thank you for your visit and your story.  I’ve witnessed the same phenomenon as well, when a whole group of people spend their time together with their faces stuck in digital world.  I think you’re right.  Being present with your friends is a heck of a lot more important (and more fun) than the other, I think.

      Please do come again….

  6. I really enjoy the company of those who are ‘good at being silent’ in my opinion these are the people that you learn a lot of wisdom from,  if you are lucky enough for them to share it with you. 

    To connect with these people well you need to be able to listen well and not just love the sounds of your own voice. Hope that makes sense!

    Great article and a fantastic read! 

    1. Welcome back, Diane.  Thanks for your visit and your comments.

      Please do come again….

  7. i like your point on don’t pontificate. With some people, having a normal conversation is difficult because they always want to finish off what you say or just tell their own side of story without giving you a chance. Every time I get caught up in this type of situation, it really irritates me. So i often keep a mental note in the future when speaking to the same people. if they interject too often, i’ll just keep the conversation as short as possible. There’s really no point trying to prove your points.

    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your thoughts, Cathy.  I do agree with you.  Talking story with people who don’t listen is decidedly irritating!

      Please do come again….

  8. I’m an introvert person, I don’t speak much all the time. 🙂 But after reading your articles, I felt touched, it was like you are talking about me. It reminds me that how should I go about it, face it and overcome the obstacle that I’m having all the time.

    This also reminds me of my little girl……

    “What they care about is you – who you are, how you feel about something, what you’re doing” – yes, take my time and be openly in somehow and somewhere at your timing .

    Thanks a lot for sharing.

    1. Thanks for your visit, search.  I am very glad that you enjoyed the post.  

      Please do come again….

  9. CravenATAT says:

    I love this article! Talking to strangers, or public speaking in general, is one of the biggest fears of people nowadays. You idea of talking to family or friends first is great, as it allows those to practice their conversation skills and build from there. Towards the end of your post you reference what Headlee says: Be Brief. This is the most important advice, as it will allow those who are awkward to build starting small. Once a brief conversation is over, you can learn to end conversations on a high note, or build the conversation into something longer if it is flowing well. Great post and great insight!

    1. Welcome back, CravenATAT.  I’m glad you found the post helpful.

      Please do come again.

  10. Technology is taking over the world.  My daughter is always on her tablet, she does not have a phone yet as she is just under 18.  One day she will be on her phone all of the time. 

    Sometimes I talk to her and it’s like she just barely pays any attention to me.  That’s okay because I know that just like me she is a shy person as well so we have even more difficultly trying to connect with others anyway.  Still something good to work on. 

    Interesting poem.  I often like writing some poetry myself.

    1. Thanks for your visit and your comments, Shy.  I am glad you found it helpful.

      Please do come again….

  11. I have always believed in the power of words and I admire those who can hold a conversation with anyone so effortlessly.

    I like to think of myself as someone who holds most conversations quite well so I didn’t think that I would learn much from this article when I first started reading it, but you proved me wrong!

    I know that I have a lot of bad habits when I talk to people – I point out mistakes that they make when they tell stories, or try to make it a competition of who hurts the most, so to see it written out clearly has really made me think of how I can alter the way I talk so I can be more like those people I admire.

    I love to talk and if you have more ways I can learn how to talk to a wider variety of people in a more compelling way I would love to hear them! 

    Thanks for such a surprising and interesting read 🙂

    1. Thanks for your visit and for sharing your story, Celeste.  I do appreciate it and I’m glad you found the post helpful.  

      Please do come again….

  12. Christine says:

    Very Interesting article. I enjoyed reading till the end. Thank you.

    It is so true, nowadays technology seems to replace face to face conversation. Many people prefer to send messages instead of talking to each other. This happens between family members too.

    Thanks for the YouTube video of Celeste Headlee. Helpful tips from her.

    Nice poem 🙂

    1. Thanks for the visit and sharing your thoughts, Christine.

      Please do come again.

  13. Thank you, great article. Being able to interact with people in person is definitely important. 

    I grew up mainly on the computer, and my experience was that going out to social events with friendly people gave me a good chance to gain more Comfort In interacting in person. Now, it is very easy for me. So, it’s definitely possible for anyone to learn. 

    It’s also important not to judge people harshly for their capacity to interact in person because everyone’s different and there could be a lot of reasons. 

    The most helpful way to teach people to interact in person is to treat them with kindness, because then they will feel safe. 

    A lot of times when people have trouble interacting in person it is because they’re scared, and that comes from people having not treated them with kindness, so they don’t feel safe. So if you help someone feel safe then they will be more likely to communicate with you.

    I like your metaphor of your eyes turning Square. I never heard of that phrase. Thanks, and I think a lot of people will enjoy your article.

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, C.  It’s great to get the POV of one who grew up with computers.

      I agree that friendly, non-judgmental and kind people really can help those who are conversationally challenged practice and get better at face-time babbling.  Thanks for pointing that one out.  

      Hee!  The eyes-turning-square thing is quite apt, don’t you think.  (Legend has it that the antidote is ingesting handfuls of regular M&M’s.  They make the square eyeballs pop back to round.  For dieters, I recommend the teeny-tiny ones.)

      Please do come again…. 

  14. Riaz Shah says:

    Lovely poem Netta,

    And while you’re drained too! Sometimes we writers get idea surges when we least expect them, don’t you think? 

    I totally agree with Headlee’s tips, especially the scar part where nobody gets a prize for being the most hurt. Still, I think that people who are going through hurt has the most interesting tales to tell as it comes from the heart.

    1. Thanks for the visit, Riaz.  

      My best poems come when I’m confused, dizzy, frustrated, sad, mad, or over-amping on happy, I think.  Mostly, I think that is because I use them to figure out what I’m actually feeling when I’m all tangled up and to adjust my stance to match how I want to be walking.  

      Probably, like everything else, it’s a matter of practice.

      I also believe, as you say, that people who are going though the hard really do have the “most interesting tales to tell.”  When your heart gets broken open, it does tend to leak all over the place.  

      However, doing the one-up Victim Game is not so very interesting and can very easily kill any developing rapport between folks.  What do you think?

      Please do come again.

  15. I guess we all have lived a different life and here I see so much difference between us. 

    Personally I feel there are some factors that can affect the ability of a particular individual to communicate freely.  Some of these factor includes being an only child and having a very busy parent.

    I have come across so many people who are like that and they find it hard to talk to people because they are used to being alone and not talk. 

    However I urge these people to learn how to communicate because there would be a time that talking will be the only option. 

    Best regards

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Chloe.  

      I agree that our comfort zones are built up by the way we grew up and how we’ve continued to grow as we get older and interact with more and different people.   

      You’re right that we can learn to expand that comfort zone by continuing to try to do things that might feel awkward at first.  It all does get easier if we give it time and some effort.  

      As I’ve said, you don’t HAVE to turn into a chatterbox.  Listening and being fully present with another person is the other half of conversation.  It can sometimes be the more powerful half.  

      Please do come again.

  16. I have a lot of friends that even till now that they are old and having family, they can’t confidently engage in a face-to-face conversation which I consider to be not so good. 

    It’s very true that practice helps, push yourself to do things with people, have conversations that’ll help you build the ability to face people and talk.

    1. Bruce, thank you for your visit and for sharing your thoughts.  I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

      Please do come again.

  17. Richie Hai says:

    Thank you for share. Great read. Love the part how you mention practice make perfect. 

    I was never a person who likes to talk a lot, but as I develop my skills and attributes through reading and learning  I’ve automatically developed the skills to talk to people on a business level.

    1. Thanks for the visit and for sharing your thoughts, Richie.  The really neat thing about developing your communication skills to a new level is that they can always be improved and often the feedback is pretty instantaneous.

      Please do come again.

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