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“Everyone you will ever meet will know something you don’t” – Bill Nye  (The Science Guy)

If you haven’t heard of Bill Nye, you’re probably wondering who he is. If you have, you’re probably wondering why I’m quoting him in a Motivational Monday post! He’s the host of a popular science show for kids that reaches kids scientific concepts in a fun way.

So, I came across this quote a few months ago, and then again as I was planning a TED Talk Lesson Plan on Conversations for one of my advanced English students.


TED Talk: Celeste Headlee on Conversations: 5 Tips

Here’s the TED Talk I used from my lesson plan. In fact, Celeste Headlee has 10 Tips, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise, so I thought I’d mention 4 of my favourites.

First, let’s answer an important question:

What makes for a good conversation?

What Makes A Good Conversation?

Well, this is a post I started before I left on my long weekend trip Friday morning – so that meant I had a chance to really reflect on conversations over the weekend.  I was lucky enough to find a deal on a flight to Switzerland. So of course, I went to visit one of my good friends I hadn’t seen in a year and a half, and take in an amazing weekend of conversations.

In fact, I’ll have quite a few “catch-ups” this summer, as I head back to Canada for the first time in four years. Do you have summer holidays planned? Want to make the most of your conversations?

Personally, I think it’s about more than simply “actively listening”, or nodding your head to show you are paying attention. It’s about truly trying to understand someone.

These are my favourite four of Celeste Headlee’s tips

1. Listen to Listen, Not to Respond

Sounds simple, right?  This means turning off all those devices, shoving away your phone, and really listening to what the other person is saying, without planning your response.

2. Empathize, But Don’t Equate Your Experience

Now this one is tough! It’s so easy to jump in with your own story.

Especially if it confirms what they’re saying.  While that’s not always a bad way to continue a conversation, it’s hard to be sure we’re not equating our experience when it’s not necessary. Usually, your role is to listen first.

For example:

Instead of saying “That happened to me too”…and continuing right into your own story, try jumping to #3 below instead.


3. Keep It Simple – Ask the 5 Ws & H

Where. When. Why. What. Who. How.  Remember those?

Take a tip from journalists and be the one asking the open-ended questions.  The answers are going to be a lot more interesting when you ask how someone felt or how something was instead of what happened.  Sometimes, we try to confirm our own beliefs by saying things like: “Was it…[scary, fun…insert adjective of your choicehere]”?

  Instead, ask what something was like.  How was it? 

First, ask the open-ended question. Then, follow-up with the other Ws and H questions. You’ll be surprised how much more open of a response you’ll get.


4. Be Brief

Skip unnecessary details and get to the point without repeating yourself.  I don’t 100% agree here, as I do believe that storytelling has a detail component to it, and repetition can create effect.  On the whole, keeping your story short is beneficial, though.

You can watch the whole talk here:


3 More Tips on Starting Conversations

While I love the TED Talk I mentioned, I did want to mention three other tips that I like to use as often as possible.

Here they are!:

1. Find A Neutral Object

Kio Stark talks about this a lot in her TED Talk on why talking to strangers is good. Finding a neutral object to strike up a conversation between yourself and someone new is a simple way to start.

For example:

Comment on someone’s shoes, their pet, how cute their baby is, or their outfit.

However, I’d argue that this may work differently in different cultures! (Actually, Kio start mentions that, too).
Personally, I’ve never started an in-depth conversation with a stranger as Kio Stark suggests.  Have you? If you have, please share your experience with us in the comments below!



2. Listen More Than You Talk

I really tried this on the weekend, for some of my conversations on a road trip. You know when you’re listening to someone and you get the urge to jump in and say something? Isn’t it so tempting to add in your thought right away – so you don’t forget it?

Wait. Stop for a second.

Catch yourself.

Keep listening.

Talk later, once your conversation partner is done with their thoughts. Then, keep focused on their thoughts, not yours.

It’s harder than it sounds, and I’ve caught myself doing the exact opposite a few times! This is especially true when you’re having a conversation with a friend you haven’t had a chance to catch up with awhile, a business partner about an exciting new project or idea, or even a topic you’re truly emotionally invested in.


3. Conversation Starters in ESL ClassesHow To Get Students To Speak In English Class

Since I know most of you are ESL or English teachers, I thought I’d add a note here about conversation starters for your ESL class. If you missed my post on   How To Get Students to Speak Up in class, it’s an oldie but a goodie!

So those are my short and sweet long weekend thoughts on conversations, which I’ve had many of this weekend!

What makes a good conversation for you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

Have a lovely and productive week!


P.S. Photo fans, the photo for today’s post (and poster!) is one I took a couple summers ago in Valencia, Spain

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