How To Start A Conversation And Keep It Interesting

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If I can start by asking you a question: How many times have you been caught out, struggling to think of something to talk about during a conversation?

The time when you want to hold a conversation, but your brain just freezes. And instead, you end up with that long, awkward silence.

It happened to me far too often until I found a formula for great conversations. And I’m going to share with you four incredibly powerful themes that you can use to talk to just about anyone.

Learning and using these four themes will allow you to build rapport with just about anyone and will allow you to create long-lasting friendships.

A simple way to remember these four is an acronym called “FORD.”

So let’s jump right into it.

F stands for “family”

Our family are the first people we interact with and get to know. We hold a special place in our hearts for them for that reason.

Family are an essential element of most people's lives. Click To Tweet
a hand holding two family pictures
“When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching – they are your family.” ― Jim Butcher

Studies find that when people share family-related matters with strangers, they feel significantly closer to them afterwards.

The challenge with speaking about family is that it can sometimes come off as intrusive if you ask someone about their family up front.

Ideally, you develop the conversation in a way so that the of the family theme seems to pop up naturally.

Giving you an example, you are in a small group of people holding idle chit-chat at a party. You notice there’s a very loud, outgoing guy on the dance floor.

Here is an example of how to go about doing this: Open the family theme by disclosing information about your family first.

You could say something like this: “That guy reminds me so much of my kid brother. He is never afraid to let loose and is always so full of life. I think that is just the way younger siblings are. Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

By making a comment like this, you direct the conversation towards family, and you also take the initiative to reveal or to open up first.

This gives them an opportunity to talk about their siblings without having to raise their guard.

If someone doesn’t have any siblings, you could ask something like “Do you ever wish you had a brother or sister?”

It is a smooth transition, and the conversation is re-directed towards family.

Conversational non-sequiturs

The second way to get someone talking about their family is by making assumptions about them. These are “non-sequiturs.”

Giving you an example, let’s say you meet someone new at your favourite coffee place. You can say, “Wow, you look like someone with lots of brothers and sisters.”

An assumption like this accomplishes two things:

  • The listener may want to correct your statement. They may come from a big family, and they go into details about it. Or they may not, and they start talking about it.
  • The listener becomes curious. They will ask, “Uhm… why do you think I come from a big family?”

O stands for “occupation”

It is estimated that 45% of our lives are spent at work. Whether it be at school, or on the job, it is undeniably a big part of our lives.

Talking about people’s occupation is one of the most common topics of conversation. It’s considered the surface-level conversation.

symphony of notes creating a inner conversation
“No occupation is considered superior since everyone is doing his best where he is.” – Sunday Adelaja

You may have heard lines like, “What do you do for a living?” Dozens of times before.

The key to success when talking about occupation is to not dwell on these surface-level questions and transition into a deeper conversation.

Giving you an example, you meet someone where you get your coffee each day, and you ask him what he does for a living.

He says, “I’m a schoolteacher.”

Interview mode

A lot of people fall into this trap; they go, “Okay, how old are the kids you teach?”
“Okay, what school do you teach at?”
“Okay, what subject do you teach?”

You just entered “interview mode.” It is uncomfortable for the listener when you ask question upon question. You make them feel awkward.

What you can do is to add a comment and a half-compliment before asking another question.

For example, he says, “I’m a teacher.”

“Really? As a teenager, I wanted to be a teacher. There is something about inspiring others that strikes me as very fulfilling.”

By saying something like this, you are adding what YOU feel about their occupation before grilling them with asking the next interview question.

This leads to significantly deeper conversations than, “Oh, what school do you work at?” would have.

Talking about occupation first is usually the safest bet when meeting someone for the first time.

Of the four FORD topics, occupation is discussed the most. And most people will feel extremely comfortable talking about it.

R stands for “recreation”

Who doesn’t have some sort of recreational activity? It could be an interest or a hobby, sometimes it’s just something that they are passionate about.

In a similar approach to occupation, you want to ask surface-level questions and introduce comments in between.

guitar next to a wall
“Weekends don’t count unless you spend them doing something completely pointless.” – Bill Watterson

Asking, “What do you like to do?” is an easy way to lead a conversation into talking about recreation.

Everyone knows it is a cliche, but it works very well.

Recreation can sometimes be more challenging to talk about than occupation because you will meet someone who has a hobby you have very little knowledge about.

Firstly, stay calm and approach the conversation in the following manner: What makes this activity exciting for them?

Giving you an example, you meet someone who tells you they are into free-climbing. You have zero knowledge about it. Darn, heights scare you. Why do you want to free-climb?

You could say, “Oh, that is interesting, I’ve always thought free-climbing was a really cool sport. Why do you like it so much?”

Framing questions  like this makes the other person feel they are  being listened to.

The other person can explain to you why they enjoy their recreational activity as much as they do enabling them to get into the detail of why they like it.

D stands for “dreams”

It is the final theme, and it is the most compelling topic you can talk about.

Who does not have a dream? Everyone either has one they wish they could be pursuing or they are pursuing at present.

a hand holding a glass sphere that is reflecting the world we see
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

This theme has greater power nowadays because the average person does not get the opportunity to pursue their dream.

You may find the How To Pick Yourself Up After Rejection helpful too.

Society provides very little support for people to chase their dreams. “Get a regular job!” is a common instruction dreamers get told.

Everyone around us, including parents and friends, dissuade us from pursuing our passions.

This creates a rebound effect, if you show that you are supportive of their dreams, they appreciate you and think fondly of you.

Rapport

People are hesitant to open up about their dreams due to the negative comments they have received when sharing them in the past. That is why it is the last theme I like to bring up in conversation with someone.

You need to have built sufficient rapport and trust before leading the conversation towards dreams if you want to get sincere and meaningful responses.

Here are two ways redirect the conversation towards dreams:

First, quite often you get an idea of what a person’s dream is, by talking about their hobbies and interests.

Giving you an example, If they mention how passionate they are about painting, my conclusion is that they dream to become an artist. Take all the information you have and make an educated guess.

“Have you ever thought about becoming a professional artist?” Is a good question to ask if they like to paint.

And as you can see, this can easily lead to deeper conversation.

Second, talk about the bigger picture and as a consequence people open up about their dreams. But, what does that mean?

Well, sometimes I will be talking about work (occupation) with someone. They may express a note of frustration. Perhaps they don’t enjoy their job, or it is too routine for them.

I will say, “I feel like our lives have more meaning than just working 9-to-5.” Or I might ask, “Do you ever feel you were destined for something bigger than what you’re doing right now?”

Yes, it might sound cheesy, but it works. It works because it directs the conversation to dreams.

Bucket-List

If I am talking to people my age group and older I also like to ask what I call a bucket-list question. For example, “What’s something you want to do before you get older?”

You would be astounded at how many people in their 50’s and 60’s have dreams that were put on hold because of other commitments. And when you tap into their dreams watch them energise.

There you have it, these are the four themes that you can use to talk to anyone.

I learned these same four themes back in the day when I was in sales.

In those days, I had to build a significant amount of trust with strangers, and convince them to give me their personal details for credit checks and their credit card information for the actual purchase. All in under one hour.

So I can swear by these four themes.

The better rapport you build with people and the more friendships you develop the more opportunities that will appear. Let’s all learn to live an outstanding life.

Drop a comment below, and let me know how you keep conversations flowing.

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David Brett-Williams