How To Keep A Conversation Going Smoothly (Part One)

One of the BIG questions I get asked quite a lot is: “How do I never run out of things to say?”

It’s a common fear and an icky feeling we’ve all experienced. You start a conversation with someone, it’s all going well and then before you know it, the dialogue has gone stale and any banter you once had has ground to a halt.

The solution: Keep the conversation moving forwards in a natural flowing state whereby conversation topics crop up organically.

This video will share some awesome techniques on how to make every conversation you have flow effortlessly and thus avoid any premature end to your social interactions. Think of it as the answer to “How do I keep a conversation going?”

Joining me is my good friend Russ Ross, who is an extremely talented conversationalist and was passing by on his way back home to Sydney, Australia.

The Power Of Having The Perfect Conversation

People turn from strangers into friends when they trust each other and feel comfortable in each other’s presence. This moment you both click is called ‘rapport’. For many people, reaching this transitional moment of rapport in a conversation remains a mystery.

You’ll know when a good level of rapport is achieved when both speakers are equally enthusiastic about the conversation as it flows back and forth effortlessly, rather like an enjoyable game of tennis.

If you focus on developing your conversation skills, you can build rapport quickly so conversation feels effortless, just like you were talking to an old friend. By this stage, everything feels so natural and you certainly won’t run out of things to talk about!

Let’s look at how to create awesome topics out of thin air:

Are You Really Listening?

It is crucial that you listen attentively when the other person is speaking instead of worrying about what you should say next.  From my experience, many people treat conversations as a complex puzzle. This leads to them using all their mental energy to look for the solution of finding the perfect thing to talk about so that they can keep the conversation flowing and avoid the dreaded silence. Somewhat ironically, all they need to do is use their ears a little more!

A good way to practice your listening skills is to try and visualize what the other person is saying as they speak – let a picture, image or even a feeling pop up in your mind, replacing it with the next thing you hear. Doing this will give you plenty of fuel that you can use to keep the conversation burning, whilst improve your ability to focus on what others have to say.

Don’t Hold Back!

Keith Johnstone, the Godfather of Improvisation, noted that most people have a watcher at the gates of their mind: a little gremlin who makes us think “I shouldn’t say that! People will think that I’m silly.” This self-censorship kills their communication skills.

Get into the habit of not censoring the thoughts and ideas that pop up into your mind, let them run wild. Yes, you’ll say some crazy stuff…but you’ll also captivate people almost constantly. Be brave! The moment you start to second guess yourself is the same nanosecond where the conversation dries up… so always go with the first thing that comes into your mind!

Even if its a cigar smoking purple monkey riding an asteroid, with his arm stuck in a toilet (that just sprung to mind, sorry).

How To Keep Your Conversations Flowing Without Even Having To Think

Every time someone speaks they are giving you various topics that you can expand on. In improvisation circles they are called ‘offers’. Think of them as opportunities for you to continue the conversation.

For example, if I said the quirky sentence: “ The dog is playing the bagpipes” the three offers there from which you could continue the conversation further are 1: the dog 2: playing and 3: the bagpipes.

How you respond to the offers presented to by the other person will determine how the rest of the conversation flows and whether it keeps going or falls flat! That’s why listening is such a big deal!

Response #1

The first way you can respond is to BUILD UPON the initial offers presented to you. To give you an example, I’ve underlined the most prominent offers in our exchange:

  • Me: “What have you been up to today Russ?”
  • Russ: “I’ve been doing a bit of site seeing, walking round Trafalgar square and London in general.”
  • Me: “Ah, do you know what, I love Trafalgar square [initial offer built upon] and you never get bored of London [fourth offer built upon] as there’s always so much going on…”

This will keep the conversation flowing.

Response #2

The next way you can respond is to IGNORE the other person’s offers completely .

For example:

  • Me: “So Russ what have you been up too lately?”
  • Russ: “I’ve been site seeing around London and Trafalgar square…”
  • Me: “I’m really hungry, we should get something to eat.”

As you can see, I ignored all the topics he mentioned and talked about my own thoughts. This disagreeable approach has a high probability of killing the conversation: sometimes instantly!

Response #3

The final way you can respond to offers is to politely acknowledge the other person’s offer before subtly obstructing it to talk about yourself once more. It’s similar to ignoring the offer, albeit more polite. Since most people’s favourite topic is themselves it’s very common to see people block the conversational flow like this by listening to new topics for a short time before dismissing them.

For example:

  • Me: “So Russ, what you been up to?”
  • Russ: “I’ve been chilling in London, checking out Trafalgar square and Piccadilly circus”
  • Me: “Ah mate that’s awesome, BUT you know, what you should really check out is Stonehenge, my mate went there one time and thought it was amazing…”

While this tactic won’t destroy the conversation immediately, it will lead it on a downward spiral if it’s repeated too much -resulting in conversational suicide.

Here’s why:

Briefly acknowledging the other person’s offer (courteously) implies that you’re putting their idea below yours. This response is a form of conversational aggression and it hinders the other person’s ability to express themselves; which in turn, ruins the natural flow of the conversation.

How To Deal With Blocking… And Converse Like A King

When your own offers are blocked, you have two solutions:

  • Forgive them and move on to another topic. Take it as a sign that they’re not interested in what you’re talking about.
  • Persist by developing their offers ahead of your own to express yourself.

Warning: A Tip For Advanced Speakers Only!

Sometimes blocking can be used to good effect by injecting little spikes of emotion into the conversation which can be used for humorous purposes. For instance, adding tension by being playfully disagreeable. Be wary not to overdo it though, otherwise you risk shutting the other person down and killing the conversational completely!

Now head over to the next episode in The Vault to see these conversational techniques in action!

Further Reading

“Impro For The Theatre” by Keith Johnstone