Do You Have a “Conversation Stack?”

by Jenny Hansen

Photo from www.WeddingSalon.com

Photo from www.WeddingSalon.com

There’s nothing worse for most people than walking into a new place where they don’t know anyone. They don’t know what to say to a perfect stranger and it stresses them out.

Fear of social embarrassment is the #1 fear in America, as y’all discovered last week.

Even as an extrovert, I understand that fear. Luckily for me, as a professional trainer, I get exposed to tons of nifty conversation starters. Yep, there’s actually training for this kind of thing.

The accountants I work with went through two hours of it just the other day. A wonderful Dale Carnegie trainer visited our firm and taught my sweet, introverted team about the Conversation Stack.

This is a handy tool that any of you can learn and it’s predicated on the old adage:

To be interesting, you must be interested.

Basically, you must learn to ask good questions, and to listen to the answers. Most people only listen to about 20% of what goes on around them. If you were to raise that number for yourself, even 5-10%, you’d be knocking it out of the park conversation-wise.

The Conversation Stack

This is a visual trick for remembering how to navigate through a successful conversation.

#1 – Remember that the number one thing people love to talk about is…THEMSELVES.
Visualize a huge brass name plate with your name on it.

#2 – The next easiest topic is where someone lives. For example, people in L.A. can talk about traffic for hours. Seriously.
Sitting atop that nameplate, visualize a big white house surrounded by a picket fence.

#3 – Another easy topic is the important people in our lives. Remember that families come in all shapes and sizes these days.
Peering through the window in that house, visualize a family playing a board game in front of a fireplace.

#4 – All the way down here at #4, we get to what people do for a living. Work is a large part of most people’s lives.
At the top of that fireplace is a big white work glove with a tax return stapled to the side. (Sub YOUR item.)

#5 – Many people adore traveling and can talk about the trips they’ve taken for hours.
That big white work glove at the top of that fireplace is holding on to the tail of an airplane.

#6 – If you haven’t gotten a hit from the other topics, prepare to hit big with this one: Leisure and Hobbies!
On the right-hand wing of that airplane, visualize a set of golf clubs and a tennis racket.

#7 – Finally, there are people who just love to discuss concepts. They think cool thoughts; they want to SHARE them.
On the left-hand wing of that airplane, visualize a bunch of flashing flourescent green lights.

Now before my introverts start hyperventilating that they’ll sound like an FBI interview, let me give you an example of how this works. You might hit a great topic early on and never get to #7 in your “stack.” But if you walk into a room KNOWING you know what to talk about, you’ll sure feel a lot more confident.


*shake hands* <– Don’t be wimpy about this!

Hi Simone, great to meet you. That’s a beautiful name. Do you know what it means? (Listen to the answers.)

Are you from around here? [In L.A.: Do you have any traffic shortcuts? It took me FOREVER to get here.]

Tell me about your family… [This one can be touchy, so some people skip it. #1 Rule here: Assume nothing.]

What do you do, Simone? I love to hear about people’s jobs. (Listen to the answers.)

Do you get decent vacation time there? Have you visited any interesting places lately?

Do you ever get time to indulge in your hobbies? What’s your favorite thing to do in your down time?

What are you passionate about?

Obviously if you ask these kinds of probing questions in succession, people will back away quickly, thinking you’re the crazy stalker person. But you get the drift – there are tons of questions that will start interesting conversations if you can just remember what they are.

Visualizing your conversation stack helps you remember how to keep a conversation flowing.

It’s important for you to jump into the conversation too. Just remember that old adage and spend more energy on listening. I guarantee people will walk away thinking you are the most interesting person in the room.
Do you get nervous about mingling at events? What have you found that makes networking easier for you? Join the discussion at the #SocialIn hashtag on Twitter.

~ Jenny


About Jenny Hansen

By day, Jenny provides training and social media marketing for an accounting firm. By night she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction and short stories. After 15 years as a corporate software trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

When she’s not at her personal blog, More Cowbell, Jenny can be found on Twitter at JennyHansenCA or at Writers In The Storm. Jenny also writes the Risky Baby Business posts at More Cowbell, a series that focuses on babies, new parents and high-risk pregnancy.

© 2013 Jenny Hansen. All content on this page is protected by copyright. If you would like to use any part of this, please contact me at the above links to request permission.

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