Conversational Threading: Never Run Out of Things to Say

Do you run out of things to say in a coversation? Here's a technique to endlessly generate conversational material

How often do your conversations with people run dry? You have nothing more to talk about, so you awkwardly repeat the same phrases, ask the same questions, and let any spark of interest fizzle out. You find that most of your conversations quickly expire, not because you don’t enjoy them, but because you don’t know how to fuel them.

Well, running out of things to say during conversations is a common problem, more so among youth who have been engulfed in the world of digital communication.

You don’t know how to fuel a conversation because there’s no structure to your conversations. You say the first things that come to mind and quickly exhaust your question reserve. Firing questions like ammunition won’t create a sustainable conversation, nor will the conversation flow smoothly and naturally.

This is where the conversational threading technique comes in handy.

Conversational threading is a technique that helps you direct a conversation towards areas of interest, and generate fuel based on what the other person tells you. Conversational threading provides the much-needed structure to your conversations which makes it easier to keep up with it.

Once you get this technique down, you will find that your conversations:

  • Flow organically
  • Last much longer
  • Always have a route to follow

Let’s have a look at how you can apply conversational threading to your interpersonal connections.

What are conversational threads?

Two friends having a conversation while camping

Conversational threads are leads, otherwise, points of interest that you can pull out of an existing conversation to elaborate on.

Think of them as keywords that someone mentions when they’re talking to you. You pick out the most interesting keywords and ask questions about them, which generates new conversational pathways.

Think of it as a hyperlink in a blog article. If I mention the term ‘social calibration‘, and you follow that link, it’s going to lead you to another article containing other hyperlinks leading to related articles.

As you’re reading that article, another topic might pick your interest, which leads you down that rabbit hole, and so forth. This website is structured as an interconnected web of content, and that’s how you should look at conversations.

Every person has a broad pallet of information, ideas, and perspectives, all tucked away in that mind of theirs. Without being prompted, they’re probably not going to talk about anything in particular, so it’s your job to identify points of interest during conversations, ask questions about them, and expand on the person’s mental archive.

You can only talk about one topic for so long without branching away from it because sooner or later, the topic runs dry. Naturally, people steer conversations into other topics by selecting keywords that have already been put on the table.

We use these points of interest to transition the conversation into different subjects. By doing this, the conversation flows seamlessly, and there’s always something to talk about.

Identifying conversational threads

Read the conversation below.

Try to find as many conversational threads as you can. These threads should be mentioned words or phrases that you could ask questions about and change the direction of the conversation. After picking your threads, read the ones I wrote down too, and compare.

Person A: Why are you changing careers?

Person B: Well, I’m just tired of my job in software engineering. It’s just so repetitive and I feel like I’m not learning, so every day is just the same thing. Luckily, I got an opportunity to do video editing for a friend of mine, so that’s what I’m going to do.

Person A: Sounds interesting, how did you get the opportunity to video edit?

Person B: Well, I know this person who has a startup, creating short-form content and commercials. I have always loved the process of video editing, and I often create my videos as an avocation. So, we talked about it, and I showed him my content, and he said that’s what he’s looking for, and gave me a job on the spot.

    • Tired of my job
    • Software engineering
    • Not learning or growing
    • New opportunity
    • Video editing
    • Friend
    • Startup
    • Short-form content and commercials
    • Love video editing
    • Avocation
    • My content
    • Job on the spot

How to use conversational threads

Men having a conversation

Threads are always present in a conversation. We can interpret any point in a conversation as a thread. By identifying threads, you can ask questions about them immediately or revisit them later.

You should only follow a thread that you are interested in, otherwise, you’ll just be conversing as a chore, which is best to avoid.

Let’s look at an example:

Question: What have you been doing today?
Response: I caught up with some friends and went fishing. Otherwise, I’ve just been relaxing. You?

From this response, there are already a few points of interest that we can identify.

This could be the topic of fishing, friends, or relaxing. Depending on what picks your interest the most, you already have a few avenues that you can lead the conversation down.

In this example, let’s hone in on the keyword fishing. From this one thread, some questions you could ask include:

  • How long have you been fishing for?
  • Where did you go fishing?
  • Who did you go fishing with?
  • How often do you go fishing?
  • Why did you go fishing?

You can ask anything regarding the topic of fishing. This person would not have mentioned it if they weren’t willing to talk about it. If you also know a lot about the hobby, you can use this as a pivot point to engage in a more interesting conversation on mutual interests.

Generating discussion

From the above exercise where you identified some threads from the dialog, pick out 5 of those threads and think of 3 questions you could ask about each of those threads. Below is my example.

  1. Computer engineering
  2. Not learning
  3. Video editing
  4. Startup
  5. My content

Set 1:

  • How long have you been in software engineering for?
  • What do you like about software engineering?
  • Is it difficult? 

Set 2:

  • Why do you feel it’s important to keep learning?
  • What are you wanting to learn?
  • What have you learned in your job?

Set 3:

  • What sort of video editing do you do?
  • Do you enjoy video editing?
  • What software do you use?
Set 4:
  • How long has the startup been going for?
  • Is it a big group of people working on it?
  • How did they start their own business?
Set 5:
  • What content do you create?
  • Why are you creating content?
  • How much content have you created so far?

Creating conversational pathways

Conversational pathways

Someone telling you that they are stressed about work could go in many different directions. You are at an intersection. Breaking this down into three avenues, you could use the following responses.

  1. Why are you stressed?
  2. What do you do for work
  3. What do you need to do?

These are some branches for this thread, with each branch leading to more branches. Some of these branches will lead to weird and wacky topics, some will lead off track, and some will die out.

Let’s have a look at a conversation below, and see how it can branch down into different avenues of conversation.

Route A

Person A: Hi
Person B: Hey, how’s it going?
Person A: I’m good thanks, how are you?
Person B: I’m good too, where are you going?
Person A: I think I’m going to head down to the beach for a swim. Just finished work. What are you up to?
Person B: Sounds good, I might just catch up with some friends. Which beach are you heading to?
Person A: Probably Gunnamatta beach down the peninsula, it has great waves.
Person B: Sounds good. I know that beach, it’s far away though. Do you surf?
Person A: I don’t surf, I just love swimming there. What are you doing with your friends?
Person B: We catch up routinely to have some drinks. We might go out to dinner and have some drinks, not too sure yet.
Person A: That sounds good, what sort of places do you usually go for dinner? Any good spots around here?

Route B

Person A: Hi
Person B: Hey, how’s it going?
Person A: I’m good thanks, how are you?
Person B: I’m good too, where are you going?
Person A: I think I’m going to head down to the beach for a swim. Just finished work. What are you up to?
Person B: Sounds good, I might just catch up with some friends. What do you do for work? 
Person A: I am an industrial designer, yourself?
Person B: I just finished my Masters of business management and I’m looking to start a business soon, how long have you been an industrial designer for?
Person A: I’ve been working in the industry for around four years, pretty recent to the job I’m working in now though.
Person B: Oh right cool, I think being an industrial designer would be an interesting job, why did you change your job?

Now you should have a good grasp on how to generate fuel for conversations by using conversational threads.

This is a valuable technique, especially if you often find yourself awkwardly caught with nothing to say. Start applying it into your daily conversations, and see where conversational threads can take you.

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