Thursday, October 21, 2021

Get to the point: Difficult Conversations

Are you a “keep it light” or a “meaningful” conversationalist?”

As a public speaking consultant, from my experience with training people to speak concisely with confidence, I realized the skills are really the same for a one-on-one conversation or a speech to a hundred people.

As older adults, we tend to dislike idle chit chat that feels fake and a waste of time. Deeper meaningful discussions are preferred. We either become better listeners or storytellers.

For the jabber box: I recollect attending many conferences where the speakers enthrall you and then stall you because they don’t know when to stop. There seems to be a misconception that more is more effective. People with short but effective appearances leave a lasting impact.

For the head nodder: Your main objective is to establish or maintain social relationships and be nice to the people you are talking to. The main purpose is not to get across any specific message, content is not important. Be yourself.

As older adults, you could also be victim to usual social group who meet often, you do run out of stories to tell and conversation gets limited. If it is your first meeting, you really want to keep the conversation upbeat and general. Simply put, make it a point to talk about stuff that cultivates happiness.



  • INITIATE a conversation with small talk
  • FLOW into a meaningful discussion 
  • GET your point across  
  • CLOSE a conversation


All of these require a skill and can be easily acquired. It is very important to keep business meetings, social conversations and meaningful discussions, crisp, to the point and with a warm human touch.

According to most studies, the average adult has a maximum attention span of about 20 minutes. While individuals can choose to re-focus their attention on the same activity repeatedly, its normal for lapses in attention to occur. It is also known that in older adults the attention span does not decline, what declines is the processing of complex tasks that are irrelevant to them.

Based on this finding, it is important to complete the important content of your conversation in the first twenty minutes then move onto some light stuff like ordering food or drinks, toilet breaks, sharing some humour. After the light stuff you can refocus to the important conversation.

This 20-10-20 rule works 20 minutes of important conversation, 10 minutes of light stuff, then resume to 20 minutes of important conversation.

Or permutations and combinations of the rule.


Small talk versus conversations;

Small talk tends to be about simple, very relatable stuff like food, theatre, sports and that kind of stuff.  Small talk topics are the best source of conversation between people who don’t know each other well. Learning to make small talk can help to build your confidence so that you can start conversations, make connections and develop your social skills.

An actual conversation is more about a person, their interests, likes, dislikes, loves, passions, that kind of stuff. A good conversation requires balance between simplicity and detail. Staying on topic and changing it; asking questions and answering them in rotation.


For business, keep the conversation tight:

Begin the conversation with basic pleasantries

  • Notice something nice.
  • Pay a compliment.
  • Ask for an opinion.
  • Look for common ground.
  • Offer help.
  • Ask for help or information or a contact.
  • Quickly move to the main conversation
  • Note that you are “in this together.” give the others time to comment too.


For casual get-to-gethers:

Example of small talk flowing into conversation:

Beautiful day, isn’t it? (weather is always a safe start)

    • Can you believe all of this rain we’ve been having?
    • It sure would be nice to be in Hawaii right now.
    • I hear they’re calling for thunderstorms all weekend.
    • Actually we are planning a trip to Hawaii next week, have you been there (looking for common ground)
    • Oh, twice, let me give you a bunch of local restaurants to visit

(flow into in-depth conversation)


– Of the 12-15 hours of our waking hours, we communicate for 8-10 hours, it is  proven that we retain;

  • 20%   of what we HEAR
  • 80%   of what we SEE
  • 50%   of what we SEE+HEAR
  • 70%  of what we SAY
  • 90%  of what we DO


So make sure everyone is listening to the 20% of the important part of your conversation.

That said, getting a conversation going is not always easy. We have all had awkward experiences when it felt like pulling teeth to get the other person to engage. Equally challenging is feeling “stuck” at a dinner party next to someone, who is rambling on about something you have no interest in. Get the feel of the listener by observing body language and know when to pause or stop the conversation.

So get to the point.

Or smile, nod and walk away!

Vinita Alvares Fernandes
Vinita Alvares Fernandes is an Economics graduate, a writer and a Trinity College certified public speaker and communicator

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