“Never answer the question ‘What do you do?’ with a job title and a company, but rather something interesting that guarantees the answer, ‘How do you do that?’” – Patricia Fripp, author and success coach
Conversation is like a game of tennis or volley – the better the players are, the longer the back-and-forth volleys can sustain, engaging the audience with the excitement of a dialogue. Similarly, providing answers that beg more questions helps start a dialogue that can sustain beyond one or two volleys, engaging your conversation partner as you keep them from the inevitable, awkward pause when you’ve exhausted the initial conversation points. Equally important is listening to your conversation partner’s answers and finding ways to ask questions that get them talking, avoiding feeling like you’re in an interrogation.
How do you answer the questions to elicit more questions? How do you ask questions that get people talking? Here are some tips:
- Learn storytelling – You don’t necessarily need to captivate crowds with telling tales, but there is something to be said for knowing how to take a basic concept and relate it in a way that engages and interests your audience. Some of the tricks to make conversation sparkle are the same as learning to write well – use an active voice, be descriptive (but brief), and learn to draw people into your world. Frame the conversation in a way that people will want to ask the natural follow-up questions of “how?” and “why?”
- Prepare in advance – Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who was considered one of the best conversationalists in the world, prepared conversation topics in her mind before going out for the evening. Think of speaking points that have universal appeal – current events, new books or movies, news that would appeal to the crowd at your next event. Keep topics light and non-controversial but still interesting, and don’t be afraid to share a strong opinion – as long as you do so graciously and are willing to agree to disagree. Think of a few fallback questions to keep in your back pocket in case the conversation stalls. If all else fails, there’s always the weather as a universal conversation-starter.
- Ask an opinion – People love to give their two cents on a topic, especially if it’s within their realm of expertise. What are some recent challenges you’ve faced that could use a fresh set of eyes? Again, keep it light and easy. Pull from daily life, and know your audience. Does your contact mention redoing his or her kitchen? Ask how they learned those handy skills. Get him or her to weigh in on a remodel you’ve been considering. Be sure to keep the set-up brief. It’s better to share the basics and have your contact ask for more details than to lose your listener by droning on too long