Do you have problems with keeping a conversation going? Do you sometimes run out of things to say?
Then you’re in the right place.
Because in this post I’d like to share 8 of my own favorite tips and habits that have helped me to greatly reduce this issue in my own life.
Here is what has worked the best for me to not get stuck in awkward silences or in not being able to keep a conversation going.
1. Get into the right frame of mind before the conversation even begins.
This is one of the most important things in this post. Perhaps the most important one.
Because if you are overly nervous, wound up and you feel stiff then you are in my experience much more likely to get stuck in awkward silences and in having a tough time with good ideas about what to say next.
But if you on the other hand get into the right frame of mind before the conversation even begins then the words, thoughts and questions will more naturally flow out of your mind and mouth.
Here’s a 3 step method that I have used many, many times in the past decade to get into that right head space:
Step 1: Slow down.
As you’re heading to your meeting or conversation slow down.
Walk slower. Move slower. Then stop.
Step 2: Breathe.
Stand still or sit down for a minute or two. And fully focus on your breathing. Nothing else.
Breathe deeply through your nostrils and with your belly.
Focus on just your slow in-breaths and out-breaths for 1-2 minutes.
This will calm your body and mind down and make it easier to think clearly and normally again.
Another essential benefit of focusing on your breathing is that it will draw you back to this moment right now once again. And not leave you stuck in past mistakes or worries about the future as you are about to step into that meeting and conversation.
Step 3: Assume rapport.
This is probably my favorite habit for reducing the nervousness that often cramped me socially in the past.
So what is assuming rapport?
Well, just before you meet someone you pretend and think to yourself that you are meeting one of your best friends.
Doing this – especially after you have already relaxed by using steps 1 and 2 – will let you slip into a more comfortable, confident and enjoyable frame of mind.
In this emotional state and frame of mind the conversation and smiles tend to flow naturally and without much thought or hesitation.
Just like it does with your best friends.
Using these 3 steps over and over again until they become somewhat of an automatic habit does in my experience make it a lot easier to have meetings and dates where conversations just keep flowing with fewer awkward silences.
2. Remember F.O.R.D.
As you now go into that conversation after having used the 3 steps above keep F.O.R.D in mind to keep the conversation going.
F.O.R.D is an acronym that stands for:
It’s an easy reminder.
A reminder of what people tend to want to talk about. The things and topics that are closest to their hearts. The things that engage them and get them going.
Like their kids, pets, favorite hobbies and dreams about where they want to travel and what they want to do in the next few years.
These four broad topics don’t have to be the end of the conversation of course.
One of them can simply be the springboard that keeps you in engaging conversation on a myriad of topics for a coffee-date or an entire evening.
So keep F.O.R.D at the back of your mind if you know you sometimes run out things to say or ask about.
3. Be genuinely interested (rather than focusing on being interesting).
Dale Carnegie once said:
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming really interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you. Which is just another way of saying that the way to make a friend is to be one.”
That’s a really good tip to keep the conversation going too.
But sometimes not easy as we may want to keep the spotlight on ourselves. Or we think that the best way to make new connections is to be more interesting ourselves.
But being more interested in a genuine way, asking questions and to keep exploring the other person – by for example using the F.O.R.D tip – rather than directing the conversation back to yourself and what you know right away tends to work well to make new friends and to keep that conversation going today and next week too.
Be sure to focus on using open-ended questions though (questions that cannot just be answered by a simple yes or no). So for example ask: “What do you think about this music? rather than “Do you like this song?”.
4. Talk about what excites you.
So being interested tends to work better than being interesting.
But when the spotlight is on you in the conversation then what should you talk about?
One good tip is to talk about what excites you. Your passions no matter if that is gardening, photography, soccer, music or something else.
Because talking about your passions spreads positive vibes and it showcases some of your best parts (something that may not show much if you just stick to talking about work or current events). And it opens up the conversation to the other person sharing his or her passions and so more positive vibes are generated in your conversation.
5. Avoid talking about negative topics.
Few things tend to drag a conversation down or bring the wordflow to a halt as negative topics. Like for example:
- Your crappy boss or colleague.
- Your boring job.
- Getting too technical about your passion.
- Creepy subjects like serial killers.
Now, there are of course exceptions when these topics can create good conversations. For example if you bring up them up with people you know a bit better or with close friends.
6. Keep some other good topics in your mental backpocket.
Conversation expert Leil Lowndes once said:
“Never leave home without reading the newspaper”.
That’s one easy way to always have something to talk about and to keep a conversation going.
Another good one that people always like to talk about is likes and dislikes. For example:
- Favorite songs/albums.
- Favorite moments from the Olympic Games.
- Favorite movies/TV-shows.
- The worst food you have ever eaten.
- The best vacation ever vs. the worst one.
7. Take a step back and ask a question.
One thing I quite often do when the conversation has stalled a bit is to take one or two steps back in the conversation and to ask a question.
For example, if the other person said a couple of minutes ago that one of her favorite trips was to Iceland then you can say:
“You said you went to Iceland, what did you do there? And what was the highlight of that trip?”
Or if she mentioned being interested in photography earlier in the conversation then you can for instance say:
“You mentioned photography is a hobby of yours. What is your favorite photo you’ve taken this year?”
8. Practice, practice, practise.
The final tip is to do what you do when you want to get better at anything in life:
To practice. To put in the minutes and hours in conversation while using the tips above.
Two more things to make that practice easier are:
You don’t have to take a big step forward into what may seem scary. Thinking about things that way may discourage you and keep you trapped in inaction. Instead, take one small step forward as you practice to keep your conversations going this week.
For example, use the first 3 step exercise before a meeting today. Or keep your focus on F.O.R.D as you head into conversations around the lunch table tomorrow.
Be kind when you have a setback (talk to yourself like your best friend would).
If a conversation does stall or you make a mistake then don’t beat yourself up. A better approach is to ask yourself this:
What would my best friend/parent tell me to do in this situation?
And then you do what he or she would tell you. By taking this kinder and more constructive approach you won’t spend so much time on beating yourself up, you’ll more easily learn from what happened and you’ll be able to more quickly get up and try again.