“Cato practiced the kind of public speech capable of moving the masses, believing proper political philosophy takes care like any great city to maintain the warlike element. But he was never seen practicing in front of others, and no one ever heard him rehearse a speech. When he was told that people blamed him for his silence, he replied, ‘Better they not blame my life. I begin to speak only when I’m certain what I’ll say isn’t better left unsaid.’”
-Plutarch, Cato The Younger, 4
I’m going to isolate that last line “I begin to speak only when I’m certain what I’ll say isn’t better left unsaid.”.
When you approach a conversation especially with people you don’t know, make it your goal to walk away with as much new information as possible. Those who speak the most in a conversation aren’t necessarily those who add the most value to a conversation. Start thinking about the impact of your words and the effectiveness of your questions. Remember great questions yield great answers.
You want to become aware of what you bring to a conversation. Yes, you want to add value, but think about who you’re talking to. If you’re speaking to a professional in whatever you want to become a professional in, you better shut up and ask the best questions you can. Don’t try to add your menial two cents at every opportunity so you can to seem smart. These people aren’t rookies, they judge people off their ability to get the most out of value them.
Think about it like this. You’re talking to that same professional about what he or she is a professional in and what you would like to become professional in. They have so much more knowledge on the profession than you currently have. That is a known going into the conversation. Why try to seem smart? Your goal must be to learn as much as you can during the conversation. You will stand out way more by the quality of your questions than by sharing the knowledge you both already have.