May 20

How To Be Interesting

Not all of us may have had opportunities to meet celebrities. But, I can say with conviction that every single one of us has had the chance to meet a person (or people, if we are lucky) we consider interesting. And equally likely, we’ve also managed to meet someone who could bore the life out of us. While it’s hard to pinpoint what makes someone interesting, learning to be interesting ourselves isn’t so difficult. If not for our sake, for the sake of others around us.

Anecdotes from a century ago

As of the 2010 census, the population of the town of Plymouth, Vermont, was 619, a tiny town by any standards. But on August 19, 1924, thanks to its famous son, Calvin Coolidge, the town was a beehive of activity, hosting some of the most interesting people in the world at that time.

Plymouth was Coolidge’s hometown and where he was inaugurated as the 30th President of the United States in 1923. Though the President had moved away from Plymouth after finishing high school, the little town remained his retreat, a place he returned to often for vacations.

The 125-year-old sap bucket

In 1924 a small group of prominent men (who left their own indelible mark in history)—Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, and Harvey Firestone, visited the President at his homestead in Plymouth after a camping trip. It was during this visit the President presented Ford with the famous wooden sap bucket.

The 125-year-old sap bucket had a storied history and had belonged to the President’s great-great-grandfather, an original settler at Plymouth. It was a piece of Americana that had survived the test of time and still does today in a museum in Sudbury, MA.

Upon receiving the bucket autographed by all those present, Ford is said to have remarked to his good friend Edison,

“I never received anything since I got Mrs. Ford that I appreciated so much.”

Now, why would a man, who by all accounts was one of the world’s first billionaires, care so much about an old sap bucket? To understand this, it helps to understand Ford’s philosophy and interests.

Life is bunk

An avid collector all his life, Ford, however, was never interested in the usual wealthy collector’s pursuits: expensive art, precious jewelry, or fine wine. Instead, he treasured the things regular people used in their ordinary, everyday lives. Ford believed history is best retold through stories of common folks—the ones who labored in fields and mines—rather than through the lives of emperors and leaders.

Famously Ford said, “When I went to our American history books to learn how our forefathers harrowed the land, I discovered that the historians knew nothing about harrows. Yet our country has depended more on harrows than on guns or speeches. I thought that a history which excluded harrows and all the rest of daily life is bunk, and I think so yet.”

It’s not a stretch to say this one man’s interests, persistence (and, of course, means) have paved the way to preserving American memorabilia that would have otherwise been lost over the years.

Coolidge sap bucket

Photo of President Coolidge (left) presenting the sap bucket to Ford (right). Looking on are President Coolidge’s father (far left) and Thomas Edison (far right.) PC:

If Henry Ford was interesting, his one-time boss and dear friend Thomas Edison was equally, if not more so. While others were laughing at the sap bucket ceremony, the ever-inquisitive Mr. Edison supposedly examined the bucket to see how it was put together. Once a scientist, always a scientist.

It may almost seem like a non-sequitur to discuss the topic of this article: how to be interesting. But, the setting at President Coolidge’s homestead on that Tuesday afternoon in Plymouth almost a century ago encapsulates nearly all the ingredients we need to learn to be interesting.

How to be interesting

Here are the key lessons the people (President Coolidge, Edison, and Ford), the place (Plymouth), and even the unassuming sap bucket can teach us how to be interesting.

1. Be curious

As alluded to earlier, Edison’s curiosity and attention to detail are legendary.

Even when he was almost 80, Edison never stopped experimenting. When he was asked how his inventions were going, he said:

“I have several irons in the fire. Now and then, I pull out a little one.”

A reporter who once followed Edison at an electrical trade show remarked that although Edison had arrived late due to prior commitments, “he didn’t overlook a single thing.” It’s almost like an eminent professor walking through a high school science fair. Sure, most displays may feel amateurish, but with curiosity, even an expert can learn something new every day.

To be curious means to resist the temptation to understand something superficially and instead go deeper. Because when we stop to care and ask “why,” we learn a lot about the world and ourselves. And that can make us interesting people.

I have no special talents. I’m just passionately curious. Albert Einstein

2. Listen more. Speak less.

President Coolidge, often referred to as Silent Cal, was known for being a man of few words. He preferred to listen rather than speak. Here’s an anecdote about the President that’s often retold.

At a state dinner, a lady seated next to the President and aware of his reputation for limited speech told him, “I made a wager that I could get you to say three words.” To this, the President supposedly replied, “You lose.”

You’ve probably heard of the common saying,

Nature designed us with mouths that can be closed but ears that can’t.

To be interesting, you need to first be interested in what others say. And the only way to do that is to pause to truly listen to what’s being said instead of formulating clever things to say yourself.

3. Tell stories

An oft-cited statistic about communication is that facts wrapped through stories are 22 times more memorable than facts told alone. While there is contention about how accurate this statistic is, the basic premise still holds—we humans remember stories much better than we remember facts.

Quite often, the world around us is like an incomplete puzzle with many missing pieces. Mostly unbeknownst to us, we store completed versions of these puzzles in our minds by supplying the missing parts ourselves. It all stems from our need to answer four questions: who, why, what, and when to complete any story.

For instance, if you see the two statements below,

  • John was working late
  • John left work at 8 p.m. and stopped to take out some food from a restaurant en route as he headed home.

You’d assume that John was hungry and therefore got himself some dinner on his way home. Now, this may or may not be accurate, but it makes sense since it completes the story by providing the why (he was hungry) in addition to the who (John), what (got food), and when (on his way home.)

Now, if you are a good storyteller yourself, you save our audience from needing to fill in the blanks, and that, in itself, can make you an interesting person.

Also, the better your storytelling capabilities are, the more likely you are to connect with and be interesting to your audience.

4. Use humor

After the sap bucket signing ceremony, reporters asked Edison for his thoughts on the use of radio as a medium for political campaigns. (Remember, this was 1924, and the next presidential election wasn’t too far away.)

In response to the question, Edison told the reporters this story:

A reformer had gone to the Sing Sing correctional facility to give a reform talk. He droned on and on, and at one point, one of the prisoners yelled out of boredom. A prison guard hit the yelling prisoner as punishment and knocked him unconscious while the reformer continued with his talk. After an hour, the prisoner regained his senses and noticed the reformer still talking. He then said to the guard, “Hit me again, boss. I can still hear it.”

Edison’s message: political speeches on radios may not be ideal!

Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker and lecturer Naomi Bagdonas teach classes on the use of humor in communication and, in 2020, published their book Humor, Seriously.

When used effectively in communication, humor, according to Bagdonas, “helps with engagement in part because when we laugh, the reward center of our brains is flooded with the neurotransmitter dopamine. This engenders deeper focus and better long-term retention.”

But more than that, humor helps build trust. You are likely to find someone interesting when you trust what they say.

5. Engage with interesting content. And people.

To be interesting, you need to read interesting things and interact with interesting people.

You are what you eat, in more ways than you think. The food you eat, the people you hang out with, and the content you consume all add up to define who you are. It goes without saying that doing dull things or dumb-scrolling on social media isn’t going to make you more interesting to be around.

And you can’t fake being interesting either. Skim-reading headlines or simply regurgitating overheard opinions to make yourself sound clever never work. Being regarded as phony is way worse than being labeled dull and uninteresting.


You never realize how boring your life is until someone asks what you do for fun. Internet wisdom.

Although life is too short for us to be bored, sometimes we get bored. That’s acceptable.

But, to be boring? Unacceptable.

We don’t have to be the President of the country like Coolidge, invent the automobile like Henry Ford, or take out 1093 patents like Edison did to qualify as an interesting person.

All it takes to be interesting is a genuine curiosity about the world and a real connection with the people you interact with. Even if you are an introvert and don’t crave to be the life of the party, becoming a genuinely interesting person can help build genuine connections and lead to a fulfilling life.

Stay curious, say less, listen more, keep good company, and above all, have fun. That’s what it takes to be interesting.



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