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Lets face it, lots of people struggle with making conversation, small talk is ironically a big part of most of our lives and for many it can be an absolute nightmare.

From job interviews to networking events, client meetings and social gatherings, how do you fill that awkward silence without putting your foot somewhere it shouldn’t be?

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Don’t talk about the weather…

This should be obvious but it’s also a cliché for a reason, for many people “how bout that weather” has become an almost humorous nod to an uncomfortable break in the conversation. The next and ever popular fall back is generally something along the lines of “so what do you do?” This in itself is not a terrible question but we all know we can do better.

It might not surprise you to learn that a 2017 study from the Harvard Business School found that “Across three studies of live dyadic conversations, we identify a robust and consistent relationship between question-asking and liking: people who ask more questions are better liked by their conversation partners.”

Click here to see the study

So what should I say?

Some of you might be familiar with the FORD method, it’s a fairly simple acronym which defines four conversation starters that can be used to assist in almost any situation.

F = Family ( Do your family live around here, have any kids etc)

O = Occupation ( What do you do, what’s the best part of your job, can you explain what’s involved with your work?)

R = Recreation (what are your hobbies, where was your last holiday, what do you do for fun)

D = Dreams ( where would you like to be, what do you wish you could do etc)

Using a simple methodology like this can be lifesaving in those awkward situations where the conversation stalls or fails to get off the ground. While FORD is ok I have developed my own method which works a little better for me based around the word NOISE (which is often how I feel about some of these conversations)

N = News                        (ask about a non topical news story)

O = Overview                  (tell me about yourself, how did you get here)

I = Interests                     (what do you love to do, i.e. read, music, film, exercise etc)

S = Social                         (ask about the last social gathering or event, was it similar to this?)

E = Entertainment          (what was the last really fun thing you did)

Regardless of the tool you use, you need to also make sure you turn on your ears. Active listening and follow up questions are crucial to a valuable engagement. If you can successfully combine the two then you are well on your way to making a new friend or at the very least having an interesting conversation.

Good luck and feel free to add any comments, suggestions or tips of your own below.

Topics: Communication

Davin Broadbent

Written by Davin Broadbent

A creative, marketing and advertising professional with over 18 years experience working on both client and agency sides of the industry.