The Complete Guide on How to Keep a Conversation Going
By David Morin and Viktor Sander
Click here to go to the specific chapter for avoiding awkward silence in a conversation.
When you talk to someone you've just met, it’s often harder to come up with things to say compared to when you’re talking to a close friend.
For example, even the basic questions I use in the previous chapter on how to start a conversation with someone can be hard to remember when you’re actually in a conversation with someone you've just met and don't feel comfortable around yet.
And there’s a reason for this. When you’re talking to someone, you use the language center of your brain. It’s hard to - at the same time - start to think back on advice you read in a guide somewhere. Just like it’s hard to read a book and at the same time talk to someone.
There is actually a clever way to come up with what to say by using a different part of the brain. And you can use this method to not just start conversations, but also to keep an interesting conversation going for a long time.
We call this the Timeline Method. It's a method that uses the visual center of your brain, so it won’t interfere with your conversation. It’s much like how you can watch a sunset with a friend and at the same time focus on a conversation you're having. The sunset and the conversation are being processed by different parts of the brain, so they don't interfere.
When you talk to someone, visualize a timeline. Your goal is to fill out the blanks of that timeline. The middle is “now”, and here’s where you should start the conversation. So you always start talking with someone about the very moment you're in, then work your way out on the timeline like a ripple going further away from the current moment - the middle of the timeline, both into the past and the future.
If you’re wondering about what to say next, explore the timeline of the other person going from the present and out. Visualizing the timeline is something you can do even when you’re in the middle of a conversation, because it won't interfere with the language center of your brain - and it will help you to come up with new subjects.
As soon as you strike up a conversation with someone, start of by filling out the blanks of the very moment you're in. Remember the 6 universal questions from the previous chapter? They explore the very moment you're in and then work their way out the timeline:
You can associate the 6 universal sentences from the previous chapter with the timeline quite easily.
How are you doing?
How do you know people here?
Or you might come up with other questions about the very moment:
Did you like the canapés?
Do you know the name of this song?
Then, continue talking about less immediate things, like,
What are you working with / studying [...] How do you like that?
Is it busy or do you get any time off? Do you have any plans for your next vacation?
Where are you originally from? How come you moved?
Notice how these questions start in the very moment and then ripple off into the future and the past. By visualizing the timeline in your head, you'll be able to come up with these questions quite easily.
I've stacked these questions as a list for your reference. But you don't want to conduct interviews.
In between these questions you share relevant things about yourself, and the conversation might take off in any direction far away from the timeline. Perhaps you talk for several minutes about the canapés already.
The timeline is more of a framework that you can fall back on if the conversation stagnates.
So when the conversation stagnates, you can think this way:
Timeline -> I don’t know anything about this person's future -> You said that you studied, what are your plans after you're done with that?
So - on a theoretical level - find out things about the person, where in life he is today, where he’s from, where he’s going. As you do that, let the other person know where YOU are from and where you are today and where you are going.
On a practical level - ask questions about the other person. Share similar bits and pieces about your life. Ask follow-up questions. Start off by talking about the immediate now and then work your way out on the timeline.
Coming up with these questions has a learning curve of course. The first couple of times it will feel a bit unfamiliar, but then you’ll notice how you will start coming up with questions to fill the blanks of the timeline.
The reason for asking all these questions is to find similarities.
As soon as you find a mutual interest or passion or experience, you’ll notice how the conversation changes. You will both become more relaxed because you feel comfortable with the subject.
So, always be on the lookout for similarities. It’s when you find them that the conversation becomes truly interesting for both of you. You start bonding. Of course you won’t find similarities with everyone, but you have to ask questions to find out.
You can practice the timeline without even speaking with someone.
Visualize the timeline on people you see when you are out walking. Try to come up with questions to fill their timelines before they’ve passed you by.
This way you can practice on a lot of people and it will make you better at conversations faster.
It’s a great feeling when questions just come to you, because you know that you will be able to just come up with questions and subjects, no matter who you are speaking to. And that will make you so much more comfortable hitting up conversations with people.
You now know how to keep an interesting conversation going. But there will still be moments where the conversation hits a wall. In the next chapter, you will learn exactly how to deal with awkward silence.
It's time for Chapter 3: How to avoid awkward silence.