How To Talk In Groups (And Participate In Group Conversations)

“I can have one-on-one conversations, but every time I try to join a group conversation, I can’t seem to get a word in edgewise. How can I join a group conversation without being loud, interrupting, or talking over someone?”

People who are outgoing have a natural advantage in group conversations. If you are shy, quiet, or reserved, it can be difficult to spark up a conversation with one person, let alone join a group conversation. While it might require getting out of your comfort zone, it is possible to get better at socializing, even in large groups.

If you don’t know how to not be quiet in groups, how to talk more, or what to say, this article is for you. In this article, you will learn the unspoken rules of group conversations and tips for being included.

Sections

Are you excluding yourself in groups?

There may be certain ways you are unknowingly excluding yourself in group conversations. When people feel nervous or insecure, they often rely on ‘safety behaviors’ to lessen the risk of saying the wrong thing or being criticized or embarrassed. Safety behaviors can actually make anxiety worse, while also keeping you quiet and reserved. In this way, the unnecessary rules you have can actually keep you from joining a group conversation, and can keep you feeling excluded.[1]

Here are some examples of unnecessary rules that may be making you feel like an outsider in group conversations:

  • Never interrupt someone
  • Don’t talk about yourself
  • Edit and rehearse everything you say
  • Don’t disagree with people
  • Keep your distance
  • Come late and leave early
  • Be overly bubbly or positive
  • Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to
  • Be seen but not heard
  • Keep your emotions out of it

How to talk in groups

Sometimes, feeling excluded from group conversations is a result of not understanding where, when, or how to include yourself. Below are some of the best ways to engage in a group conversation. They can help you feel included in a large group or a small one. You can use these skills to know how to talk in a group of friends, coworkers, or people you’ve just met.

1. Greet the group

When you are first walking into a group conversation, make sure to greet people. If they are talking as a group, you can address them all at once by saying, “Hi everyone!” or, “Hey guys, what did I miss?” If they are engaged in side conversations, you could greet people individually by making the rounds and saying hello, shaking hands, and asking how people are. Greeting people in a friendly way helps set a positive tone for the conversation and makes people more likely to want to include you.

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2. Speak up early

The longer you wait to chime in, the harder it can be to speak up.[1, 2] The anticipation can build into anxiety and can even keep you silent. You can interrupt this by speaking up early, within the first minute or so of joining a conversation. This helps to build momentum, making it more likely you will continue to speak up during the conversation. If you don’t know how to make yourself heard in a group, the best strategy is to project your voice and speak in a loud and clear way.

3. Be an engaged listener

While you might think the only way to participate in groups is to speak, listening is equally important. Being an active listener means giving your full attention to the person who is talking and demonstrating interest by making eye contact, nodding, smiling, and repeating back key parts of what they said. By paying more attention to others than yourself, you may find that you are less nervous and self-conscious.[3, 4]

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4. Encourage the speaker

Another way to include yourself in a group conversation is to encourage or agree with the speaker by making eye contact, nodding, smiling, or using verbal prompts like “yes” or “uh-huh.” People respond well to this kind of encouragement or support and are more likely to talk more directly to you or offer you a chance to speak.[3, 5]

5. Build on the current topic

When you are first entering a conversation, it’s better to piggyback on the current conversation happening in the group instead of changing the subject. Being too quick to switch topics can come off as pushy or threatening to other people in the group. Instead, listen to what is being said and try to find a way to piggyback on the current topic. For instance, if they are talking about a basketball game, ask “Who won?” or say, “That was an amazing game.”

6. Politely interrupt if necessary

Sometimes you will not get a word in edgewise unless you interrupt. If you are not getting a chance to speak, it is ok to interrupt, as long as you are polite about it. For example, saying, “I just wanted to add one thing,” or, “That made me think of something” is a simple and effective way to join a conversation. Make sure to speak up and project your voice so that everyone in the group can hear you.

7. Use a turn signal

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Nonverbal gestures are great ways to communicate and tend to be less intrusive than interrupting someone or talking over them. Because the person speaking has the power to give turns to others, try raising a finger or a hand while making eye contact with the person who is talking to let them know you have something to say.[4, 6] If they get the signal, they will often give you a turn once they are done talking. You can also use turn signals to redirect a group back to a specific topic or to switch topics.

8. Find points of agreement

In groups, people are bound to have different opinions and ideas. Sometimes, these differences can start conflict or often people, so it’s better to chime in when you agree with someone rather than when you disagree. People bond more over their similarities and not their differences, so focusing on the common ground can also help you relate and connect to people.[5] If you often feel left out of a group conversation, finding points of agreement can be a great way to feel more included.

9. Up the energy by 10%

Groups feed off of energy, so being enthusiastic can help you raise the energy of the group. Being enthusiastic is also a proven way to attract people with positive energy. Try to read the energy of a group and up it by 10%.[2] You can increase the energy by speaking with more passion, enthusiasm, and being more expressive. Enthusiasm is contagious, so using passion and energy is a great way to make a lasting impression and contribute to a group in a positive way.

10. Follow social cues

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It’s important to remember that a group consists of several individual people, each with their own feelings, insecurities, and discomforts. When one person shows signs of discomfort (i.e., avoiding eye contact or shutting down), it is important for other members to steer the conversation in a different direction. Aim for topics that seem to get the most people talking and engaged, and away from topics that shut people down, make things quiet, or cause people to look away. Getting better at reading social cues will help you know what to say and what not to say in groups.[4, 5]

11. Stay true to yourself

Being true to yourself is important for your self-esteem and is the only way to build meaningful relationships. While you may feel pressured to agree with everyone and become a social chameleon, this won’t allow other people to really get to know you. If your goal is to speak without talking about yourself, this can set you up for an interaction that doesn’t feel authentic. By being true to your feelings, beliefs, and preferences, it will be easier to join group conversations without feeling like you have to change yourself just to fit in.

12. Share a story

Stories are great ways to share more about yourself without getting people bored or disengaged. Good stories are ones that have a beginning, turning point, and ending. If something in the conversation reminds you of a funny, interesting or unusual experience you had, consider sharing it with the group. Good stories leave a lasting impact on people, and can even prompt others in the group to open up and share some of their own experiences.

13. Make a personal connection

At a social event, don’t be shy about starting a side conversation with someone you feel like you have a lot in common with. Consider approaching someone who also looks like they are feeling left out or excluded, and might also be struggling to figure out a way into the group. Approaching them and starting a conversation can make them feel more comfortable. If you are an introvert, starting a one-on-one conversation also puts you in more comfortable territory.[5]

14. Observe, orient, decide & act

The OODA approach was developed by a military member as a decision-making model he used in high-stakes situations, but can also be used in any stressful situation. If you feel intimidated or stressed out by large groups of people, this model can be a handy tool to help you figure out an in-road into a group conversation.[2]

Use this model by:

  • Observe the group by taking a moment or two when you first join to assess how people are sitting, whether the group is engaged in one conversation or several side conversations.
  • Orient yourself by choosing where to place yourself in the group. Consider taking an open seat in the circle or a seat by someone who is familiar or seems welcoming.
  • Decide whether to greet the whole group (if there’s one conversation happening) or to speak to individual members (if there are several side conversations).
  • Act by greeting the group or an individual or small part of the group in a friendly way or by introducing yourself.

15. Track highlights

People with social anxiety or poor social skills tend to replay their social blooper reel after a conversation, but this can make anxiety worse.[7] When you only highlight the parts of the conversation that felt awkward, you may be more likely to play it safe in future conversations or even avoid having them. Regular conversations are the key to improving your social skills. Instead of replaying the bloopers, instead try to think of the highlights of the conversation. This can help you feel more confident while also helping you keep track of your progress.

Final thoughts

Group conversations can be difficult, especially if you are quiet, introverted, or shy around other people. One of the fastest ways to overcome your nervousness and get better at joining group conversations is to get regular practice. Having more conversations can help you overcome social anxiety, speak more confidently, and build closer relationships with others.

It’s also important to remember that the flow of a conversation is just as important as the content. You can follow the flow of a conversation by taking turns listening and talking, and by finding in-roads to include yourself.

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Hailey Shafir is a licensed mental health counselor, licensed addiction specialist, and clinical supervisor working out of Raleigh, NC. She has a Masters in Counseling from NC State University, and has extensive professional experience in counseling, program development, and clinical supervision. Read more.

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