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The 6 Conversation Questions that Get People Talking

Aug 18, 2007
Good conversation relies on your ability to ask the right questions to stimulate discussion and keep people talking. You can learn this skill. Good conversation questions are not difficult. They have to be things people can talk about or your conversation is going nowhere fast.

Good conversations are like tennis matches, with plenty of to and fro. Questions are a really important part of that.

You can ask questions for various reasons in a conversation:

- Questions to start conversations
- Questions to get to know people
- Questions to clarify understanding
- Questions to bring in quiet people
- Questions to progress the conversation
- Questions to make sure there's a next time

Let's have a look at each of those in turn:

1. Questions to start conversations:

1. Have you been here before?
2. I wonder what the tutor will be like?
3. I like your (shirt, decor etc) where did you get it?
4. Have you had to travel far to get here?
5. So you have a child in the show?...

And so on, you get the idea. Latch on to what strikes you immediately about the situation you're in and ask questions which invites the other person to respond with a comment that is more than a 'yes' or 'no'.

Some of the above questions are closed questions but since they are about topics which evoke strong feelings like children and travel - they are not likely to be met with one-word answers. There are no hard and fast rules here - relax and enjoy the conversation.

2. Questions to get to know people better:

1. Do you live around here?
2. How do you know our hosts?
3. Are you here with your family?
4. What are your hobbies?
5. Have you read any good books/been to any good movies
recently?

3. Questions to clarify understanding:

These are useful to avoid misunderstanding which can either cause tension as you comment on something in an inappropriate way as you didn't understand - or you feel too out of your depth to contribute to the conversation at all.

When in doubt - ask! Something simple like, "Excuse me - I didn't quite understand that," will do.

4. Questions to bring in quiet people:

Make it easy for quite people to join in a conversation by asking them direct questions by name, but don't make it obvious you feel they're quiet.

"Hey! Have you lost your tongue?" won't work nearly as well as something like, "You went to that restaurant too, didn't you? What was it like?"

5. Questions to progress the conversation:

These build on the topic you're already talking about and take the conversation into greater depths - and so make them more interesting.

For instance, if you're talking about sport, you could ask: "You are a fan of ____ aren't you?"..."What did you think of their last game with ___ "..."What do you think of their chances of winning ___ this season?"

You get the idea, I'm sure.

6. Questions to make sure there's a next time:

Oh these are goodies! You've enjoyed talking to the person and you want to see them again. It doesn't have to be a date, just a continuation of a friendship.

You've probably got to know a little about the other person's interests by then, so your question could focus on what you have in common. If you're stuck, though - "How about we meet up for coffee at the weekend?" is always a good question.

Whatever stage of the conversation or however well you know the person, conversation questions will always help to smooth things along and get you where you want to be in talking to someone.
About the Author
Peter Murphy is a peak performance expert. He recently produced a very popular free report: 10 Simple Steps to Developing Communication Confidence. Apply now because it is available only at: conversation starters
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