I often used to run out of things to talk about. Either because I got stuck in small talk that died out or because I tensed up so that my mind went blank.
Sometimes, a conversation is meant to end, and there’s no need to push it. But if you often run out of things to say, this guide is for you.
I used to worry that what I said would sound dumb or too obvious. When I analyzed socially savvy people, I learned that they say mundane, obvious things all the time.
- “It’s really cold today, isn’t it?”
- “I love the sandwiches they sell here.”
- “Huh, the traffic isn’t usually so light at this time of day.”
When you start a conversation with someone new, you may feel like small talk is awkward and meaningless. The truth is that small talk helps us “warm-up” to each other and signals that we’re friendly, easy-going, and open to interaction. People will judge you for what you say as little as you walk around and judge others for what they say. Instead of trying to say smart things, say whatever’s on your mind.
“I often run out of things to say with friends. I get stuck in small talk, and the conversation dies out”.
Ask people slightly personal questions to make boring topics interesting.
If you’re talking about work:
- “What do you like most about your job?”
- “Why did you choose [their field of work]?”
- “If you could do any kind of work, what would you do?”
If you’re talking about the cost of renting in their city:
- “Where would you love to live if you could pick anywhere on earth?”
- “Have you lived in many other places?”
- “Did you grow up around here?”
- “Would you ever move out of the city to save on rent, or do you think the cost is worth it?”
This way, you move from small talk to personal mode. In the personal mode, we learn about:
When you transition the conversation like this, you’re engaging the other person more, and it’s easier to make conversation. At this point, you get to know each other rather than just making small talk.
See my guide on how to make interesting conversation.
Sometimes, all we can think about is if we come off as weird, if we’re blushing or that our heart is about to jump out of our chest. The key is to calm your mind by focusing intensively on what the other person is saying:
In a study conducted at Macquarie University on attentional focus in social anxiety, they found that when the participants focused their attention on what the other person was saying, instead of on their internal reactions like heart rate, blushing, concern over how they were being perceived, they were less nervous and had fewer physical reactions as a result.
When you focus on what your partner is saying you won’t have time to feed your internal anxiety because your mind is caught up in the conversation. When you worry less about yourself, it’s easier to come up with things to say.
I decided to stop trying so hard. I accepted that conversation didn’t have to go great and that people didn’t have to like me. Ironically, that helped me relax and be more pleasant and likable to be around.
Rather than being on edge trying to come up with things to say, allow for silences. Be okay with taking a few seconds extra to formulate an answer. Rather than trying to make people like you, make sure that they like being AROUND you.
You can do that by being a great listener. When you talk, you say things that you think are fun or interesting for the other person to hear, not things that are supposed to make you look a certain way. (Humblebragging, talking about cool stuff you’ve done, etc.)
People want to be liked and heard and are interested in people who show them that kind of genuine attention. As Maya Angelou said, “At the end of the day, people won’t remember what you said or did; they will remember how you made them feel.”
Read more here in our guide on how to be more likable.
Sometimes a conversation dies out because the other person tries to end it, and sometimes they want to talk but just don’t know what to say. How do you know the difference?
Their body language will tell you if they are inclined to spend time talking or if they have other plans. Look at what way their feet are pointing. Is it toward you or away from you? If it’s toward you, they are inviting further conversation. If it’s away from you, they might want to get away from the conversation. If they also spend a lot of time looking in the direction of their feet, it’s an even stronger signal that they want to leave.
If they point away from you, you can wrap up the conversation with one or two sentences.
- “It’s later than I thought, so I’d better get going! It was great to see you, hopefully we can catch up soon.”
- “I’ve really enjoyed chatting to you, but I’ve got a busy afternoon ahead of me. See you later.”
- “It was really nice talking to you. I think it’s time for me to get back to work.”
If they point their feet at you and look at you, you can feel confident that they’ll want to keep talking.
Take inspiration from your environment and make a comment or ask a question about it to not run out of things to say.
- “I love these plants. Are you good at growing stuff?”
- “I like this new office. Is your commute longer or shorter now?”
- “That’s an interesting painting, isn’t it? I like abstract art. Do you?”
- “It’s so warm today! Do you like the hot weather?”
- “I love the music in this place. I can’t remember this band’s name, though. Do you know it?”
Some avoid simple statements like these because they think that they are too mundane. Don’t! They work great as inspiration for new, interesting topics.
When the topic you’re talking about dries up, feel free to go back to any topic you talked about before.
Let’s say that someone mentions that they are in the import business, and then the conversation moves on. A few minutes later, when it fizzles out, you can go back to asking something about the import business. For example, you could say, “You mentioned that you’re doing imports. What do you import more specifically?”
Conversations don’t have to be a straight line. When a topic dies out, feel free to move to a new one or a previous one.
I think of these as conversation buffers. They keep the conversation going, but they’re not too deep.
- “What a cool house.”
- “It’s sunny today.”
- “Those flowers are pretty.”
- “That was a helpful meeting.”
- “What a cute dog.”
This is a fairly organic way to move on to new topics. It helps you see if you have a connection to something else like being interested in architecture or what weather you prefer and, based on that, where you’d rather live.
You don’t need to fabricate statements. Your mind already makes statements about things – that’s how the mind works. Feel free to let those thoughts out.
Open-ended questions give the other person a chance to think about their answer and say something more detailed than yes or no.
- Rather than asking “Was the vacation good?” (Close-ended), you can ask, “How was your vacation?” (Open-ended)
- Rather than asking “Did your team win last night’s game?” (Close-ended), you can ask, “How was last night’s game?” (Open-ended)
- Rather than asking, “Did you enjoy the party?” (Close-ended) you can ask, “Who was at the party?” or “What kind of party was it?” (Open-ended)
Asking questions like these often gives more elaborate answers, and because of that, you’ll get to know each other faster and on a deeper level.
When we find out that we have something in common with someone, it’s an automatic spark to the friendship (and a hint of relief). Make it a habit to mention things you’re interested in.
If someone asks what you were up to over the weekend, you could say, “I met up with my book club yesterday,” or “I went to the gym and then took my son to his hockey game,” or “I watched this harrowing documentary about the Vietnam war.”
Mentioning things you’re interested in will help you “scout” for mutual interests. If you come across someone who’s also interested in books, hockey, or history, they’ll probably want to hear more about it.
It’s a myth that people only want to talk about themselves. They also want to get a picture of the person they’re talking to – you. Don’t be afraid to share things about yourself as long as you’re also showing interest in the other person.
Balance with the other person how much you share. If someone gives you an in-depth explanation of their job, give them an in-depth explanation of your job. If they just briefly mention what they do, briefly mention what you do.
This helps us bond because we are revealing things to each other at the same pace. You’re keeping it interesting for your partner because you’re opening up, too.
Let’s say you’ve just learned that the person you talk to is originally from Connecticut. To move the conversation along, you could ask “what,” “why,” “when,” and “how” questions to draw that experience out more.
- “What was it like to grow up in Connecticut?”
- “Why did you move here?”
- “How did you feel about leaving home?”
- “When did you first think about leaving Connecticut?”
- “What do you like most about your new home?”
- “How long did it take you to find a new house here?”
Let your natural curiosity guide you. Share related information about yourself in between your questions so you don’t come off as an interrogator. If they are giving you full, thoughtful answers, keep going.
Everyone comes from somewhere and has interesting stories related to their interests, dreams, aspirations, and past. Think of getting to know someone as a gentle quest to understand more about where they come from, what they like, and their future dreams.
You’re asking questions with the purpose of filling in the blanks of where they’re from, what they do, and what their future plans are.
To learn more about their life growing up, you could ask:
- “Where did you grow up?”
- “Do you have any siblings?”
- “Did your family live close by when you were a kid or did they live far away?”
- “Did you have any pets as a child?”
To learn more about their education or school, you could ask:
- “Where did you go to school?”
- “What did you study?”
- “What was your favorite class?”
To learn more about their passions and hobbies, you could ask:
- “What do you love to do in your free time?”
- “Do you have any particular hobbies?”
- “What do you usually do on the weekends?”
To learn more about their hopes and dreams, you could ask:
- “What’s your biggest ambition in life?”
- “What’s something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t had the chance yet?”
Over time, filling in these blanks gives you an unlimited number of topics to talk about, and while you ask questions (and share about yourself in between), you get to know each other.
Silence happens. It’s not a bad thing. It’s a natural part of a conversation, and it’s okay to just let it happen. There’s no need to fill it as quickly as possible. In fact, silence has a purpose. It gives you time to take a breath and think and to make the conversation more meaningful. Letting there be silence and not being anxious about it helps you bond with the other person. If you learn to be comfortable with the silence, it can be refreshing not to have to talk all the time.
Filling every break in a conversation with words can come off as anxious. Remember that a conversation is between two people, who are both participating equally. If you need a few seconds to take a break, that’s fine. They might need it too.
“Why can’t I think of things to say with someone I like? I specifically want to learn how to never run out of things to say with a girl I know. Around her, I get extra nervous and run out of things to talk about.”
It’s normal to be nervous when you’re meeting someone for the first time, especially if it’s a girl or a boy you like.
Practice staying a bit longer than usual in a conversation, even if you’re feeling nervous and would rather just leave. Our instinct is to get away from what makes us nervous. But you want to stay longer in those situations! You’re slowly teaching your brain that nothing bad happens if you do, and you’re slowly becoming better at handling these situations.
Here’s our guide on how to not get nervous around people.
Silence is not a failure. A sign of a great friendship is that both can be quiet together and not feel uncomfortable about it. It might feel like you’re the one responsible for coming up with things to say, but the other person is likely thinking that it’s THEIR responsibility. They aren’t waiting for you to talk. They’re also trying to come up with things to say!
If you show that you’re calm in the silence and OK with not saying anything, your friend will be, too.
Read our guide on how to be comfortable with silence.
When you’re texting with someone, have the following two rules in mind. These rules will make your conversations more interesting, and it’ll be easier to come up with things to say:
If you want an interesting answer from someone, share something interesting first.
- “Today I almost missed the bus because I saw two squirrels fighting. How was your morning?”
- “My boss just announced that this year’s office party will have a circus theme. I hope I don’t have to dress up as a clown. How’s your day going?”
- “I got home this afternoon to find that my dog had knocked over my yucca plant and rolled around in the soil. He looked very pleased with himself. How’re you?”
You don’t have to think very hard, because you can use things that happened during your day for inspiration. It can also inspire a more thoughtful reply than “How was your morning/afternoon/day?”
Always go deeper into a subject if you want the conversation to be more interesting. It’s also easier to come up with things to talk about if you go deeper into a subject.
To continue the first example in the step above, you can go deeper by sharing how you feel in the mornings (stressed, happy, dreadful) and ask how they feel about their mornings. From now on, you can talk about personal feelings and thoughts about life.
You: Today I almost missed the bus because I saw two squirrels fighting. How was your morning?
Them: Haha, squirrels are crazy. My morning was OK. I’m kind of tired though. I don’t know why. I went to bed early. It’s a mystery.
You: I know how that feels. I’m the sleepiest person I know in the mornings. Is it just me, or is 8 hours of sleep not enough? It’s like as I get older, I need more and more sleep.
Them: It’s not just you. When I was younger I used to stay up all night, party, then go into work…sometimes I miss my college days because… [carries on talking about college and partying]
The conversation gets more interesting, and you get to know each other on a deeper level.
Not everyone you meet will be someone you connect with on multiple levels. Sometimes it’s just a bit of small talk, and that’s all you have time for. Time, circumstances, how you feel that day, how they feel that day, lots of things decide how much emotional space we have for conversation. No conversation is meant to go on forever.
A conversation is not a failure just because it’s short. One thing is certain. The more conversations you’ll have, the better of a conversationalist you’ll become.
Here’s what you will learn in the video:
00:15 – The solution to never running out of things to say
00:36 – Linear- vs Nonlinear conversations
01:00 – Won’t you come off as random switching the subject?
01:24 – Real life example of Conversational Threading
02:30 – How to best practice Conversational Threading
02:46 – The best thing about learning this