To keep from blanking out, follow these tips and keep the conversation rolling.
By Aaron Lynch, Front Range Community College
Everyone has been there at least once.
You’re at a party and suddenly you become aware of the fact that you’re talking to someone who’s much more attractive than you. You want to keep the conversation going, but the pressure to be engaging causes your brain to freeze up and you run out of things to talk about.
Worse yet, some people revert to interrogation mode, where they just ask question after question until that person is so uncomfortable they’ll never want to talk to you again.
Most people feel that there’s nothing they can do about running out of things to say, but believe it or not, there are four topics that are virtually universal among people, and collectively these topics make up the FORD method.
With tactful conversation guidance and perhaps a little practice, the FORD method will help you become a master of meeting people.
Most people feel significantly closer to each other once they discuss personal information about one another’s families. However, approaching this topic directly would be coming on too strong, so it’s important to think of a natural way to steer the conversation in this direction.
The best way to make this turn is by adding a thought of your own before turning the topic on them. For example, you might be at a bar and see a guy who’s rowdy and friendly with everyone. You could say something along the lines of, “See that guy? He reminds me of my brother; always cutting loose and being the life of the party [you might even throw in a quick anecdote about your brother here]. Do you have any siblings?”
They might say no, to which you could follow up with, “Have you ever wanted any?” But regardless of whether or not they have siblings, you’ve opened up your world slightly and given them a small piece of information about your family, so prompting them to do the same seems natural. Plus, family is considered to be a non-surface level topic, so this person is likely to feel closer to you after the conversation is over.
This one already gets asked all the time, “What do you do?”/”What’s your major?” And it gets asked a lot for a good reason: People are comfortable talking about something they know how to do well. Occupation is less directly personal than family, but you can still find out a lot about a person by what they do for work and what their attitude about it is.
When talking about someone else’s occupation you’re likely to know nothing about it, this makes it easy to fall into interrogation mode and just keep asking specific questions. Be sure to add comments and thoughts to the conversation, and try to leave your questions open-ended; this will invite your social partner to add their own speculations into their responses, and even ask you questions in return.
You may find yourself talking to someone who works as a bartender, in which case you could say something along the lines of, “I always thought bartending would be such a cool job, but dealing with drunk people all the time seems so exhausting. What do you like about it?” Not only does this question give them a clue what you think of their occupation, but saying that “it seems so hard” leaves it open-ended enough for them to either explain you right or wrong (depending on their attitude).
Recreation is similar to occupation only slightly deeper. Instead of talking about what someone does for a living, you are instead talking about their hobbies and passions (so you’re likely to know even less).
It’s easy to get onto this topic just by asking, “What do you like to do in your free time?” Say you’re still talking to that bartender and she says that she absolutely loves to go snowboarding as much as possible. You could respond with something like, “Oh that’s cool, I’ve always thought snowboarding looked like so much fun. What do you like about it so much?”
Adding thoughts and comments between questions makes the other person feel as though you’re really listening to them, while allowing them to show you what it is about them that makes them enjoy that activity. Always look for ways that their life is relatable to yours, this makes it easy for you to tell them personal stories about your life in a natural way as well.
Dreams are the most powerful topic in the FORD method; everyone has one that they’re either pursuing or that they wish they could pursue, and society typically has little support for peoples’ dreams (the whole, “get a conventional job” thing). So, when you step into the picture and are supportive of their passions, they begin to think fondly of you.
However, because there is so little support for ambition, this is perhaps the hardest topic to get people to open up about. It’s important to have established a bit of rapport before bringing up someone’s dreams, and once again it’s necessary that you steer the conversation over in a natural way.
This is actually an easy jump from Recreation. For example, your speaking partner may say that they like to paint in their free time. You could estimate what a career in painting would look like and say, “How cool! Have you ever thought about becoming an artist for a living?” This is a casual way to show your support for their aspirations, and even if they’ve never really wanted to be an artist, you’re still on the topic of what they want to do with their life. Plus, from there you could always revert back to, “Well then what makes you love painting so much?”
5. More Tips
It’s critical that you seem natural while bridging the conversation; it makes your curiosity seem genuine. If you’re not sure what you’re going to say then take an extra second to gather your thoughts—a brief silence probably won’t totally kill the conversation.
Be extra aware of your facial expressions, tone of voice and amount of eye contact. If you look at the floor and mumble something, it’s likely that whomever you’re talking to will begin to lose interest. On the other hand, you can sound too polished, making too much eye contact and using too much tone in your voice seems theatrical and you come across as fake. It’s a surprisingly fine line between casually confident and cocky.
Non-sequitur conclusions can be another great way to keep the conversation alive. Making a small assumption about somebody without evidence pricks their curiosity about why you feel that way, while simultaneously opening the door for them to correct/affirm your assumption.
The FORD method works great for when the conversation hits a lull, but think of it as a bridge between two islands of conversation. You don’t want to be on the bridge, you want to be on the island, so move along with the conversation as necessary and get to know anyone you want to.