The Art of Being Glib: Confessions of a Social Chameleon 1
Today I will be talking about how to come across as smooth, polished and artfully clever in speech and mannerisms. Now, I don’t represent myself as the epitome of silver-tongued repartee, but I’m no slouch, either. So, sit back, put on your reading glasses, take your highlighters out (no sniffing!) and get schooled.
You ever have one of those most unsatisfying conversations where – as you’re walking home, sitting on the bus, in your room, talking on the phone to a friend – you have this moment of clarity and say, “I should have said …?” Well that’s the first step to being glib. You see, glibness isn’t something you are born having. Okay, maybe some folks are born glib and their parents don’t screw them up with vows of, “You’ll never amount to anything if you keep drawing pictures, Tommy,” or, “When you pay the bills in this house, then you can repaint your room whatever color you damn well please, but this is my house and your walls are going to be pastel blue. That’s final.” If they make it past the pitfalls of avaricious and predatory parenting, they are still going to have to deal with all their social circles.
Let’s face it, we all know we stand in a circle of social peers. We are told and exposed to these social strata since the time we get to play with other kids in the local playground during mom’s wonderful strolls with us to the park. Some kids are mean. Some kids are nice. Some are rich (and know it, somehow) and others are just so cute their parents would be beaming with pride should they see their child’s picture on a milk carton under the heading of:
Last Seen With This Person:
(Now, in case that’s kind of confusing, I am referring to parental pride in seeing their son or daughter’s face on the carton if they were the abductor, not the abductee – that line’s only funny if their kids are doing something wrong.)
You’ve seen the kids in school, though; you all have. You might have been one of those kids. The popular and “cool” kids. Their circle is pretty exclusive. Mostly the overachieving jocks and college preppie types, both male and female are in this circle of peers; and special exceptions. You’ll have a smattering of them from the Drama curriculum and some low rent areas in town, but mostly, they’re going to be the sons and daughters of the slighter better off than your family category.
In all the teen angst high school films you’ve ever seen (and in almost every school you could care to go to,) though, there’s always one or two kids who just seem to glow with brilliance. Everything that pours from their lips is drank as intellectual wine. Other students admire them, teachers respect them and even bullies seem to leave them be. They are class valedictorians, class clowns, the leather jacketed Rebels With a Clue who resent any sort of authority and occasionally, the strident politically active youth on campus when most kids are more interested in their latest YouTube video, American Idol or whether they can convince their parents that a $700.00 dress, $300.00 for the limousine, $150.00 for the pair of tickets and god only knows what else is their due as a part of the rite of passage of a teen for the Senior Prom.
Razor sharp wits, sometimes calculatedly cruel, oftentimes sarcastic and occasionally quite pithy, these kids ply their way through school and the social circles like a combine through a wheat field. They had the right thing to say almost all the time and it didn’t matter which group of kids they were with, they all felt like this person was “in” with them, even if they did hang out with their mortal social enemies, whichever way the hierarchy moved. These are the kids we all wished we were.
I’m here to tell you, that it’s not too late. Seriously. Do you think being able to speak all the best lines is some off the cuff trick that only a truly gifted wordsmith can pull off? Well, that one might actually be true, but make no mistake, as with any sport or endeavor, there’s talent and then there’s training. I’m here today to give you three quick lessons in becoming ever more glib.
Before we get started, you have to recognize that glibness isn’t something that just happens. Remember that if you recall nothing else about being glib. Glibness requires practice. It requires a bit of training. It requires an attentiveness to being clever without seeming to be purposefully clever.
Look, being glib really isn’t tricky. What it boils down to is that being glib is a learned skill. I can teach you, but you have to be willing to do the work. Interested? Okay, let’s get to it.
Lesson One: Practice Makes Perfect
When you hear someone make some pithy or witty comment in a situation, at a restaurant, say, and people laugh, then you’ve got to take into account the setting and context. Now that you know those things (if possible) then you have to imagine, in your mind, a situation similar and then speak the line. It’s okay to steal someone else’s line, being glib can’t be copyrighted. I do, however, caution the practitioner of glibness to avoid using someone else’s line in their presence – no-one appreciates a droll copycat.
If you can remember the situation and context of a line, you should probably write that down and practice it regularly. Part of the glib response is to come off as natural. This means you can’t speak too forcefully your line, or sound as if you’re purposely being funny. At least not at first. First you must be able to simply speak the lines of glib, witty repartee as if they are the most natural thing that comes out in everyday conversation for you.
This is where you need to remember those times when you went, “Oh, I should have said…” and write those down. This is your practice material and you’ll need to build a decent base of witty comebacks, flippant replies, double entendres and pithy snippets of conversation that will certainly turn heads.
The only way to get this natural seeming speech to pass your lips is to practice having it pass your lips. You can do this in your head, too, like sports athletes visualizing their jump shot or their batting swing. Saying it out loud may feel silly at first, but don’t let this put you off. Practicing in front of a mirror is actually a good idea. It helps you to get over feeling silly and self-conscious quickly, allowing you to get comfortable practicing your facial expressions with your lines to help convey subtle nuances of meaning.
Lesson Two: Know Your Source Material
Any good comic or public speaker knows that the key to flowing casual speech is to know your material. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing standup comedy, speaking at a Technical Convention or talking about the Do’s and Don’t’s to 2nd Grade kids for the rules at a zoo. The overall rules for casual public speaking with confidence apply. Knowing what you’re going to say is a critical component to being able to do so.
An actor or comic doesn’t get up on stage and riff their lines 100%. Over time, they develop phrases, mannerisms, tricks of memory and word association that allows them to appear facile, though the truth is they have developed a rapport with their material. This rapport has grown to the point where they can apply it in almost any situation, riffing off that as the need arises. Riffing at this level takes on a patois of confidence and ease of speaking that allows you to literally craft new sayings and variations on a theme with relative ease.
Knowing your material includes knowing when the material applies to the situation. This comes with experience and training. Training includes watching good comics, great public speakers, listening to that guy or gal at the party whom everyone else seems to gravitate towards and listen to. These are your training materials. Get to know them. And when someone drops a verbal bomb, saying something that no-one can relate to, seems inappropriate or just out of whack, pay attention – this could prevent you from doing the same thing another time.
Lesson Three: Watch Your Tone
We see a lot of glib and pithy responses each and everyday. Those moments may not be the most appropriate to emulate. Sarcasm is probably one of the most used methods of witty responses. A lot of comedy is extended from sarcasm. However, sarcasm is best used in the form of condescension, insults and put downs – while this can be useful, the art of being glib is to come across as witty, friendly, warm and worldly as often, if not more so than being a prig. Sarcasm doesn’t really fit this mold. Just remember, just because you can be sarcastic and know you shouldn’t, don’t let that stop you under the right circumstances.
Tone, pitch and vocal force is actually about 85% of vocal communications. Body language, hand gestures, positioning and facial expressions are even more important than just what you say. This is why telephone conversations can be so difficult. Pitch and tone are there, but nothing else. Sadly, vocal communications is only about 40% of complete communication being done in person. Knowing this, you should limit your witty conversation to face-to-face meetings and use short, staccato bursts of sentences for telephone communications. The best use of a phone is to schedule a time to meet.
For these reasons, it is important to learn to modulate your pitch, tone and facial expressions to help convey your moods and intent when speaking. This will aid your glibness. Again, you must make sure you don’t come across as too sarcastic – or too conciliatory. If it’s necessary to engage in sarcasm, you want to make sure that you don’t come across as too soft, either. Again, the more often you encounter situations where you succeed or fail, you have that much more experience to reflect upon. Refer to Lesson One: Practice Makes Perfect.
I could tell you more about being glib, though these three lessons should get you well on your way. In fact, if you follow these loose guidelines, bringing to the mix a dedication and willingness to become glib, these three lessons can be a springboard to greater confidence at parties, public outings and meeting new people. If those things don’t attract you and still wish to be glib, more glib or even glibber, then following these three lessons in writing might appeal to you as well. Who knows? It could improve your dialogue in stories.
Hope you found these little lessons useful. Being glib can be learned by anyone. If you feel you lack glibness, it’s not a failing on your part, it’s just lack of training and practice. You can do it. If I can, anyone can.
So remember:Practice Makes PerfectKnow Your MaterialWatch Your Tone
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