So I read "Catch me if you can" recently and was totally hooked. Usually after reading a book of this kind I find my thinking very affected by the book and the personality of the writer (though this book is actually ghost written so it's my interepretation of the ghost writer's interpretation of Abagnale's thought processes)
He was such a sharp observer of people around him, seeing what people might be impressed by, and like any confidence trickster probably telling a lot about people very quickly from their gait/body language/voice etc. He also clearly had quite an imagination - if only to dream up these schemes and ways of getting information from people.
I imagine him formulating a new plan quickly, and thinking "I must start talking to that girl/an airline official/or whoever". Almost immediately, a scenario would come to his mind where someone had a quite legitimate query or occasion to start a conversation - and he would become that role, like an improvising actor. Such adrenaline-rush-fuelled skills may also explain his apparent success-rate with women - I'm sure Neil Strauss and the other pick-up artists would be interested in his approach if the haven't studied that sort of thing already. (He is what they would call a "natural", I believe)
He must also be good at approaching a conversation indirectly, mentioning a topic so the other person starts talking about it, and all of a sudden they are discussing exactly the kind of thing he wants to know about. Sometimes he will tease someone ("no way have you got an A-grade average...I need to see proof!") and that's a pretty well known technique I guess.
These are not skills I've been displaying in abundance in the last year or two of my life ;) Neither is the initiative that all that (in his case misdirected) industry takes. So now I'm setting myself exercises using time on the bus as body-language reading time (there is plenty of raw material, plenty of bodys, all speaking loudly!). It's also worth working on the improvisation-like skills I've mentioned. Anything you could be better at...
This is part of a self-improvement streak that I have to own up to. I've mentioned Neil Strauss above - one thing he has said is to do with working on "inner-game" ( perhaps another word for a kind of confidence), posture, and appearance. He said something in a seminar, along the lines of:
"You guys have no idea how hard I worked on this stuff, drilling it into myself every day"
And I do wonder what the best study/improvement method is, given that time is limited. Really I want to learn new ways of thinking, and 10 minutes of practice every day is really not good enough. And knowing me I'm in danger of my enthusiasm waning after a short while.