Everyone has a hobby. Some people collect stamps, some people watch birds, some people dismember young women and make clothing out of their body parts. The trouble is, they all sound the same when they talk about it. You see, hobbies breed disproportionate obsession, especially among detail-oriented people. You find some small, interesting thing, and immerse yourself in it, zooming into it until every detail has great personal import – and that’s not a bad thing. Nearly everyone does it, in some form or another. It does, however, tend to make you look kind of (very) crazy when you try to talk about it. And not just ‘he’s a little odd’ crazy. We’re talking ‘human skulls hanging from the roof, bathing in the blood of virgin’ crazy. So, say you’re at a nice house party with a few friends, and you’d like to introduce them to your new hobby. How do you do it without sounding like Jeffery Dahmer?
1. Test the waters. Some people are genuinely interested in you and your life, and will volunteer a little time to get to know you. Other people loathe you from the bottom of their shriveled black souls, and are faking polite conversation until they can find a heavy object to beat you to death with. It’s important you make this distinction before you begin. Try making some casual reference to your hobby: preferably a reference with a somewhat interesting story attached to it. For example, you might say something like “You know, I was in the stamp store last week and I found one worth two thousand dollars!”, or “I was playing Dungeons and Dragons on Sunday, and my dungeon master had me fighting this wild monster…” Watch their facial expressions as you do this. If they seem at ease, interested, and ask questions, keep going. If their eyes go dead, and you can see wisps of their soul boiling away out of their ears, back off and try another topic. Above all, don’t be pushy.
2. Keep the language simple. Most hobbies have their own vocabulary. For example, if you’re into Dungeons and Dragons, it’s a given the dungeon master isn’t a sex thing. (usually). If you like chess, you know the names of dozens of moves and defenses. If you’re into botany or the sciences, you probably speak more Latin than the pope.
All this vocabulary is fine for other enthusiasts, but to a layman, the line between a jargon-spewing hobbyist and a case of demonic possession is fairly thin. Once you lose them once, it’s over, and they’ll quickly distract you with a shiny object and flee. Keep to plain language, and don’t get too technical. Note that this isn’t a license to condescend – just keep it simple, explain details as needed. Think of it like you’re telling a joke – don’t give unnecessary details, keep it short, interesting, and punchy.
3. Relate it back to something they know. If you know the person well, this should be easy. Find something they already understand, and compare aspects of the hobby to it. It’ll give them a deeper understanding, and keep them engaged. If they’re into cars, explain your interest in computers in car metaphors (note that this may fail spectacularly if you’re talking to, for instance, a NASA engineer).
However, even if you don’t know them very well, you can still reference topics that relate to your audience. There are certain cultural touchstones that everyone shares, and that work well to convey the gist of what you’re trying to say. This will only get you so far, however. Fortunately, most hobbies have at least a few universally interesting aspects. They all have some history or some neat factoids. Think about what got you into the hobby in the first place. If all else fails, you’ve got at least one vaguely interesting story to tell, right?
4. Pay attention to body language. Unfortunately, for politeness sake, many people fake interest in subjects that bore them. You don’t want to bore your audience, do you? Of course not. Now, you could simply ask whether you’re boring them, but this usually won’t get an honest answer. In order to solve this dilemma, watch for body language markers. Eye contact and a forward lean is good, as it indicates engagement. Averted eyes, too-frequent nodding, excessive blinking, and repeated words are all bad signs, and indicate that you should either give up, or throw an exploding bus into your story somewhere.
Additionally, keep track of whether their body language is open or closed. If they arms and legs are positioned wide, it indicates involvement. Closed or crossed arms and legs indicate a desire to flee your presence and take up a life of hermitude.
5. Be ready to bail out. Sometimes, in spite of your best efforts, you lose the interest of your audience. Their body language says they hate you, their brains are dribbling out their ears,and they’re trying to strangle themselves to death with their necktie. Be aware of this, and be prepared to pull some emergency linguistic maneuvers to get out of the conversation.
If you notice that you’ve lost them, wind down your story or explanation, and move on to another topic. Don’t be afraid to tacitly acknowledge their boredom. Not everyone appreciates your hobby the way you do, and they’ll appreciate you sparing them.
6. Don’t ramble. You’ve got their ear, they’re interested. Now, this is where it’s easy to get carried away. Hobbies are, by their very nature, a bit obsessive. It’s easy to get side-tracked on a dozen vaguely-related tangents about (mostly) minutae. So, keep to your main thread, and keep it short. Say your piece, keep it interesting, change the subject when you’re done.
7. Reciprocate. As previously mentioned, everyone has a hobby. Your friends and family appreciate you talking about your hobby (or, at least, understand better how you spend your time). Show an interest in people around you, and listen to others when they start talking about their weird obsessions. With these tips and a little luck, you’ll soon be casually discussing your hobby with friends and family, without seeming even slightly like you’re fantasizing about the taste of their livers.
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