We’ve all been there. You’re at a networking event, party, or comic con. You’re there alone or lost your friends and strike up a conversation with a friendly-looking person. All of sudden, like flashes of anti-inspiration, those thoughts come flying at you.
“I don’t know what to say”
“What if the conversation dries up?”
“What if they think I’m boring?”
“HOW DO I EVEN HAVE A CONVERSATION?!”
Self-fulfilling prophecies that cause the conversation to stumble and dry up after just a few sentences. Tragic. NEVER FEAR FRIENDS! For I have had MANY tragic conversations where I have failed to keep my end of the social contract I entered into and have learned the secrets to keeping a conversation going.
Ah talking. We’re not robots like in Speaking Simulator, it shouldn’t be that hard. And indeed at first its; not, there are those early easy questions that almost always get asked.
“Where are you from?”
“What do you do?”
Then the struggle becomes real. You have nothing left to say to each other.
BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T UNLOCK THE OPTIONS ON THE CONVERSATION TREE
Bear with me non-gamers for this is a metaphor many of us know well – you’re playing Fallout and threw your SPECIAL points into a strength build. You’re beefy and can soak up damage but so many options in conversation are greyed out. You don’t have access to swathes of conversatorial* joy.
What if you did? What if you did in real life? Let me show you how.
IMPORTANT – conversations are 50% on the other person and no amount of chit chat magic will save one that is destined to die. Don’t feel bad about it. Move on. They might just be having a bad day, be tired, have just met their hero and are overwhelmed, or just don’t like talking to new people.
HOW TO UNLOCK CONVERSATION OPTIONS
It all starts at the very beginning (and all of a sudden I’m Mary Poppins?). Using those pretty much guaranteed questions to unlock the conversation tree options later on.
“WHERE ARE YOU FROM?”
Seemingly fairly throwaway, a filler question, but one that can be turned into a conversation power up.
Take a standard exchange of this nature:
“Where are you from?”
“Originally Stafford but I Live in London now”
There’s nothing truly exciting or interesting in there. (Unless I was visiting the States in which case being from London is very exciting to them and they make you say different words to amuse and entertain them – seriously, try ‘aluminium’ on an American and they might just lose their shit. You can totally play it up using words you never usually would say and you’ll be their new British friend for life – but I digress…).
Talking is a co-op game and you need to help the other player fill their inventory with conversational beats.
“I lived in Stafford for most of my life – it’s most notable for being the birthplace of Neil Morrissey and being near to Alton Towers – but I moved to London about 15 years ago – there’s so much of the geeky things I love to do here that I’ll put up with the crowds.”
BOOM! You just gave them a whole bunch of points they can use to carry the conversation on. Perhaps they’re a theme park aficionado and want to talk about how Nemesis is still one of the greatest rollercoasters in the world after 25 years. Maybe they love Neil Morrissey, or couldn’t imagine living in London because of how busy it is. They might ask why you moved in the first place or how much has London changed over the last 15 years. Chances are they’ll ask what sort of geeky things you like to do. Or how you cope with the crowds. You haven’t given them all of the details; just a glimpse and now the brain will want to know more and ask questions to fill in the gaps.
You’ll get to know each other, ask them some questions, and have a perfectly lovely conversation.
Next time we’ll go deeper into advanced conversation skills, embed some new habits that enable people to get to know the real you easier and faster than ever.
Robin Bates – *I don’t think ‘conversatorial’ is a real word