Just as some people find it hard to start a conversation, some also battle with what to say next. If talking to people doesn’t come naturally to you, you might want to think of conversation ideas ahead of time. Don’t rehearse too much or you’ll sound unnatural.
Another way to keep talking is to think of conversation as a tennis match. You want to aim for a rally—where you are each having a turn and where you pick up on the other person’s cues and ask more questions or make a comment that’s related to the topic. Sometimes you or the other person will drop the ball, and that’s okay. It just means you need to serve a new ball, or be prepared to return serve.
Here’s how I kept a conversation going just recently while waiting to pick up my son from school. It was a blustery day and another mum wondered if it was going to rain before we all got home (there’s that weather topic, again). I looked at the clouds and said, “Hmm, I don’t know.” That might have been the end of the conversation (and might have seemed quite dismissive), but I added, “Actually it’s the wind that bothers me more. I always worry that a branch is going to break off.” We then both looked up at the trees and laughed. And that was the perfect opening for my shopping trolley story (the one where a freak wind picked up a shopping trolley (cart) and blew it into my car as I was driving out of the parking lot), told humorously to keep the good mood going.
Sometimes, though, the other person has so much to say that you can’t get a natural break in the conversation to add your own gems. I hate to interrupt when someone is talking, so I am often in the situation where my companion has gone off on a tangent and it feels like the moment has passed and I’ve lost the opportunity to have my say. But if you really did have a valuable comment to contribute, you can always wait for a pause and say something like, “Just going back to your point about…”
If you’re the one doing all the talking, remember to pause occasionally just in case your companion does have something to say even though they may be listening intently. You could prompt with a question, perhaps: “Has anything like that ever happened to you?”
Finally, don’t be afraid of companionable silence. You don’t have to talk the whole time and it can be good for both parties to have a chance to think about what was just discussed. If it does feel uncomfortable, suggest moving – getting something to eat or drink, going for a walk, going somewhere else. A change of venue can get the conversation going again.
When you find a person with whom you can chat endlessly and comfortably, you’ve found a friendship worth cultivating.
Elle Carter Neal is the author of the picture book I Own All the Blue and the teen science-fantasy novel Madison Lane and the Wand of Rasputin. She has been telling stories for as long as she can remember, holding childhood slumber-party audiences entranced until the early hours of the morning. Elle decided to be an author the day she discovered that real people wrote books and that writing books was a real job. Join Elle on her new publishing adventure.