4 Ways to Keep the Conversation Flowing

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If you knew that in five minutes you would be forced to carry on polite banter with a stranger, would you try to disappear? If so, congratulations, you’re normal. Even many people with strong communication skills still feel unnerved when thrust into a forced conversation that seems to have no actual purpose.

While it can be awkward to try to fill the silence, you don’t have to speed to the nearest exit or render yourself invisible. There are ways to avoid the awkward pauses and nervous chatter and help the conversation flow more comfortably.

Here are a few tips to help you shake the nerves.

1. Use Your Ears.

You’ve probably mastered the use of a phone, right? Without being in the same room (or even the same state), you are able to pick up cues from what the caller is saying and appropriately respond.

If you feel at ease on the phone, but feel put on the spot when standing face-to-face with someone, then the pressure probably comes from the visual elements. In a face-to-face conversation, you worry about what the person will observe about you. Will they notice that you’re nervous? Will they stare expectantly if you don’t respond fast or well enough? That creates higher pressure for you than a phone call.

The next time you’re confronted with an opportunity to small talk, then, try to remind yourself that you already have the main skill needed to make the conversation work: listening. A lot of small talk comes down to being friendly and approachable, so that people feel they can talk to you. When they do talk to you, listen carefully–just as you would on the phone–and look to ask a follow-up question that invites them to further expand on something they’ve shared. It doesn’t have to be a long or detailed response. It doesn’t have to be intellectually, socially savvy, or funny. All you have to do is show interest and then get out of the way and listen.

2 – Add a Detail.

Nothing kills a conversation quicker than those questions that draw one word answers. You’ve heard them. You’ve probably used a bunch of them. Sure. Okay. Yup. Nope. Maybe. Even if someone asks you a yes or no question, resolve to always offer them more than a simple yes or no. If they ask a question that requires a yes or no, shoot to add some details to your response. If someone asks, “Do you like your job?”–for example, you can use it as a chance to offer an interesting fact about your work. “My whole job? Um, no? The fact that we have a ping pong table in the staff lounge? I do a lot of brainstorming in there.” When you practice this habit of sharing one detail, it often gives the listener a jumping off point to chime in with their own personal fact or story.

3 – Be Ready With Back-Up.

You ever notice that when things are about to go sideways in the average cop show they tend to call for back-up? There’s a good reason for that. Back-up arrives and more or less saves someone’s bacon. One way you can save your own bacon when struggling for things to say in small talk is to fill your mind with some easy “go to” topics to pepper a conversation with. Some starters: Where did the person grow up or go to school? Where do they work? Where do they live? Those are easy questions for people to answer because they are subjects they know well enough to talk about off the top of their head and there’s no pressure to come of as “smart” or “in the know” like might be there when someone discusses a specific subject like politics or current events.

4 – Enjoy the Crickets.

It happens. Even if you have good conversation skills, a great exchange with someone can easily end up on the off ramp to Silencetown. Whatever you do, don’t panic. Consider silence a pause for reflection. If a new subject or comment doesn’t naturally come to you, it may be a sign to exit that conversation and wish them well until next time. Sometimes it’s better to let things come to a natural close than to babble on about nonsense trying to fill the air with unneeded conversation.


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  1. Lorraine

    Enjoy the crickets is not within my ability. I absolutely melt down when a conversation goes quiet and hurry and say stupid things to fill the void. Guilty. Blah.

  2. Sara Spectacular and Short

    would luv to feel more comfortable in these kinds of situations. this article is just the tip of the iceberg though.

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