They can lead to powerful moments of realization and revelation. Conversations are how we, as a species, connect, learn, and grow with each other.

And…conversations can be a huge source of stress, anxiety, and missed opportunities. One of the worst moments in any conversation is that terrible awkward silence. Not knowing what to say next can make you panic and worry whether or not you’re making a good impression. 

So, today, l’m sharing a few tips that will help you keep that conversational flow going, always. 

Tip #1: Visualize Then Clarify

Your first tip is to visualize during the conversation.

Here’s what I mean.

As the other person is speaking and telling you a story, visualize what they’re talking about as if it’s a movie playing in your mind.

They could be telling you about a crazy, kooky thing that happened during their last vacation. Or, they could be telling you something as simple as what happened on their commute to work this morning.

Then, look for knowledge gaps in the story. What’s missing in this movie? Do you know where they were? Who they were with? What time of day it was?

Knowledge gaps are your opportunity to ask clarifying questions, which prompts the other person to elaborate, thus continuing the conversation. Tada!

Here’s a quick example:

New Person: “We had a blast the last time we were here.”

You: “Oh, did you come to last year’s event?” (Notice the “When” knowledge gap)

New Person: “Sure did. That was the year they did the costume contest. It was hysterical.”

More often than not, the other person will likely go down a rabbit hole based on your clarifying question. Asking them a clarifying detail will spark a related thought or memory…and away they go!

More conversation for you to enjoy.

Tip #2 Repeat phrases

This technique is simple. Just repeat what the other person says.

Of course, at first glance, this technique sounds like a super annoy thing to do. Buuuuut, when this is done well (and not too often) you’ll be amazed at how effective this technique is at getting the other person to continue talking.

And, keeping them talking is one of the best ways to gather influential intelligence.

Here’s what repeating phrases can look like…

New Person: “I just really struggle at networking events?”

You: “Networking events, huh?”

New Person: “Yeah, I just don’t know what to say. I’m not much of an extrovert, but I know these events could help my business.”

Now, there’s a trick here, so pay attention.

You must use a different inflection when you’re repeating their phrases.

For example, going up at the end of a phrase is always a great way to turn a repeated phrase into a question.

Lastly, don’t do this every time it’s your turn to speak. Sprinkling in a few repeated phrases is fine, but doing it too much is really, really awkward.

Tip #3: “Oh, really. What makes you say that?”

This is one of my favorite questions to use when I’m trying to get inside the mind of someone else. This is a fantastic prompting question for many reasons.

First, by saying, “oh really,” you’re signaling to the other person that you’re interested.

Second, the phrase “what makes you say that?” is less threatening and less invasive than asking the question “why” / “why do you say that?”

This is a subtle conversational turn of phrase, but your results will be very different.

The question
“why” can be a personal one. “Why” is asking to poke into their inner world and find their internal motivations and rationale. It’s a tad bit invasive.

On the other hand, “what *makes* you say that?” places the “blame,” so to speak, of what they just said on something else – something outside of themselves. “What” is an external reference; “why” is an internal reference.

You will get more honest, thorough, and less defensive answers when you ask “what” instead of “why.”

Tip #4: Appreciate to Investigate

Yes, the title sounds a little cheesy, but this technique packs a conversational punch. Because you can use it anywhere, any time, in any situation.

We all know that sincere flattery builds a connection. Everyone likes to receive compliments and feel validated.  

So, practice weaving in more compliments into your conversations.

Tell the other person what you appreciate about them, and follow it up with a question (that’s the investigate part).

You can do this for small things like,

You: “I really love your shoes. Where did you get them?”

New Person: “Oh these? I picked these up at this amazing sale.”

Or bigger things like getting the inside scoop…

You: “I really love your approach to marketing. It’s very personable. How do you think you achieve that?”

You’re more likely to get the information you’re looking for by starting with a genuine compliment.

Tip #5: Provocative Statement

Now, this technique is not for the faint of heart. You have to have a little bravery to use this because it’s…well…provocative.

A provocative statement is a broad conversational category, but, in essence, all you’re doing is saying something that will provoke a response.

Uh, yeah, Sharí, isn’t that what conversations are in general? Provoking a response?

You’re not wrong.

But it’s important to include provocative statements in this conversational tips article because it’s easy to fall into conversational ruts and routines. Think about it. How many conferences have you been to where everyone asks you the same questions:

  • Where are you from?
  • What do you do?
  • How was the flight in?
  • Boy, it sure is hot/cold/rainy out today isn’t it?

So. Boring.

And, asking these types of questions puts you on the influential back foot because the person you’re talking to has a ready-to-launch response to those questions. They’ve answered them hundreds of times before.

So, now, you’re in an autopilot conversation. And THAT will NOT help you connect with them.

Try shaking things up! Say something that comes out of left field…

You: “Has anyone else been binge watching murder mysteries on Netflix?”

Talk about something that is different than the usual chit chat…

You: “Did anyone else notice the bartender that looks exactly like Matt Damon?”

Provocative statements make your conversations more fun.

Just be warned. When you use provocative statements, they *will* throw off your conversation partner *just* for a second or two. It’s ok. Wait it out. They’ll recoup.

And when they do, you’ll have a more connected conversation because they’re not giving you their “scripted” responses.

Stay Curious

Ultimately, your focus shouldn’t be on “what should I say next?” Instead, shift to wondering, “What can I learn next?”

What can you learn about this person, their life, how they think, what they feel, what they know, what they’ve experienced?

If you stay curious, you can keep the conversation going.

So, focus on being interest-ed, not interest-ing

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