Question Stacking Method: How to Get Anyone Talking in 5 Minutes or Less

Question Stacking MethodDo you ever feel like your mind goes completely blank whenever you’re around people?

Do you ever wonder what the secret to having a lively conversation is?

Maybe you know how to carry a conversation, but you feel like every conversation you have is shallow and lacks depth?

Maybe you don’t even know what a deep conversation looks like?

I have a solution for you. I’m going to cover that solution in depth in just a moment.

But maybe none of these things describe you, but you’re interested in improving your conversational skills because ___.

Doesn’t even matter what ____ is. Sharpening your people skills is always a good idea.

At the end of the day, introvert/extrovert/ambivert/anythingelsevert, we’re all social creatures. It’s the way we’re wired.

leo shrugging

Quick note: This is a good post. But it isn’t enough. If you are serious about growing your conversational and people skills then you need to sign-up for my free 5-day email course. I created it for readers of this post. Check it out here.

Now, when learning about conversational techniques, the other books & blogs you’ve read almost always say the secret to great conversation is to ask questions…

They say, “if you ask more questions, people will start talking about themselves, and the conversation will flow!”

Which isn’t always false…

…people do love to talk about themselves, and sometimes ‘ask more questions’ does work.

But let me ask you:
How many times have you ‘asked more questions’ and it didn’t work out for you?

How many times did it feel like the conversation slipped into ‘interview mode’?

How many times was it just too exhausting to keep thinking of new questions or topics to talk about?

It happens all the time! Nearly everyday for some of you.

Here’s the truth:

To get real conversations flowing, it isn’t as simple as “ask more questions”.

And today, I’m going to show you a method that almost guarantees that you’ll be able to get someone talking.

It’s called the Question Stacking Method.

But first, I want to tell you a quick story:

How I recently used the question stacking method to make a new friend:

The past few weeks, on Tuesdays & Thursdays I’ve been swimming at the local rec center with my mom.

I swam in high school, and she used to swim on an adult master’s team.

(sidenote: I don’t really know what that means either, but basically they swam like 5000 yards every morning…. point is: she’s a stud swimmer)

We’re both trying to get back in shape this year, so it made sense.

After the first 4 or 5 times we had gone, I noticed a man who always swam at the same time as us. And I also noticed that this man was at least 50 years old… but he was CUT.

I mean, this guy probably had 8% body fat & he was at least twice my age.

While other men his age are starting to do the old man shuffle, this guy looked and moved like he was in the prime of his life… at age 50+!

Now I, being the social butterfly I am, wanted to know who this guy was.

So that day, when we changing in the locker room, I started a conversation with him.

Now, I know that the locker room is arguably the WORST place to meet someone. It is easy to come off as SUPER weird. I know that… But still, I couldn’t resist. I had to know who this guy was.

What follows is the conversation(as best as I can remember) I had with this man:

me: “Oh my goodness, you are FIT. You must swim everyday!”
him: “No. I only swim on Tuesdays and Thursdays.”
me: “Oh, do you do other workouts on other days?”
him: “Yeah! I actually do spin class on Mon/Wed/Fri”
me: “Oh wow, why do you do that? Like, I’m not trying to be rude, but you are a bit older & you look better than I do!”
him: “Actually, I’m a triathlon competitor.”
me: “No way? When did you start doing that?”
him: “Well, I started as a runner, & *he proceeded to tell me a story about how he started doing triathlons 6 years ago, and is in the best shape of his life, and how he competes in about 20-25 events a year and a whole bunch of other things about triathlon running and his life.*

In about 2 minutes of talking, I got him to open up and talk about something he loved. I now have a new friend I see every Tuesday and Thursday.

You can do the same, with the Question Stacking Method.

Read on to learn more. If you want to that is. 🙂

The Question Stacking Method

I’m about to cover a lot of ground. I urge you to read the whole as every piece is incredibly important to understanding & mastering this method.

First I’m going to cover exactly what the method is. Step by step.

Then I’m going to cover the most important thing you must do to make this method work. (without this, eventually you’ll be dead in the water… with this, this whole process will come naturally)

Then I’m going to answer a few specific questions I received via my email list.

And all throughout, I’m going to do my best to give relevant examples that will help you apply this to your life.

Then, if you still want more, I actually created a five-day mini-course titled: Talk to Anyone. It was created for readers of this post, enroll for free here.

After signing up: Onward!

The Question Stacking Method : What is it?

The Question Stacking Method is a 4-step process you can follow that, with practice, will enable you to have a great & stimulating conversation with almost anyone.

The best part is that the method itself is actually quite simple:

Step 1: Introduce Yourself
Step 2: Ask a broad closed-ended question
Step 3: Ask a follow-up question about their answer
Step 4: Repeat Steps 2-3 until you can get them to tell a story or explain something to you

For example, let’s pretend I saw a man at the bus stop that I wanted to spark a conversation with:

Me: “Hi, my name is TJ. What’s your name?”
Stranger: “My name is John!”
Me: “Do you like music?”
John: “Yes? Who doesn’t?”
Me: “I don’t know honestly. Everyone is different I guess. What’s your favorite genre?”
John: “Jazz!”
Me: “Wow, that’s pretty unique, what got you into jazz?”
John: “Well….. I grew up around music, and when I was 17 my mom bought me my first saxophone and…*story ensues*”
(I’ll buy you a copy of one of my favorite people skills books you haven’t read yet to the first person who figures out and comments who I’ve just met.)

Now, you might be thinking:

“That’s it?”

Yes.

And no.

The worst(and best) part is there are an infinite number of different ways this process could go down.

So let’s break down each step to cover more detail.

Step 1: Introduce Yourself
Pick-up artists call it ‘the approach’.

Telemarketers call it the ‘cold call’.

Freelancers and consultants alike refer to it as ‘first contact’.

I simply call it the introduction.

This is often times the hardest part of starting a conversation. It’s quite difficult to start a conversation without first saying something to the other person(shocker I know..) This is usually where people get nervous, and where even the most veteran conversationalist can get caught up.

charlie sheen nervous collar grab

And it isn’t for no reason. How you establish relationship with someone is incredibly important and can affect the way they view you from this point going forward.

However, you can ease this process by mastering 1-2 great approach techniques.

Here are my two favorite techniques:

  1. The Flattery Introduction : Everyone has a desire to feel important & everyone likes to receive encouragement. With this introduction, we want to find something the other person clearly puts effort into and they comment or compliment them on it. As you might’ve noticed, this is actually the approach I took when meeting my new triathlon friend. I commented on how physically fit he was, and this made him more likely to respond to me.

    For example:
    If you notice a girl is wearing a green necklace, with green earrings, and green shoes, then she obviously put thought into what she was wearing. All you have to do is directly compliment her, OR in some cases make an observation.
    Simply saying “wow, green looks fantastic on you” or “you’re looking mighty green today”(with a smile and a positive inflection in your voice) is a perfect intro.

    As another example:
    If you notice someone at your work is always encouraging others on their ideas, you may comment on their encouraging nature.
    Something like: “Hey, I just wanted to say, I’ve noticed you are always encouraging other people here, and I really appreciate that.”
    OR
    “That was really cool how you encouraged Brandon to be more excited about his project in that meeting. That’s a valuable trait to have.”

  2. The Cold Introduction : This one is a tad harder at times. BUT, when you are in a place where no one knows each other, this is a fantastic approach. Think: a big party, an event, a conference, etc. Knowing that everyone else who doesn’t know anybody is just as uncomfortable as you helps with this approach.

    For example:
    If you are at a business conference you could find someone near you (preferable who is sitting/standing alone) and introduce yourself.
    All you have to say is something like this: “Hey! I hate these things when I don’t know anybody, so I figured I would introduce myself to you. I’m TJ, what’s your name?”
    OR
    “Hey! This is my first time at *conference title*, so I don’t really know anyone yet. I figured I would introduce myself to you. I’m TJ, what’s your name?”

    For another example:
    If you are going to your first day of class, find someone who has an empty seat, and say something like this:
    “Hey, I don’t really know anyone is this class, mind if I sit next to you?”
    them: “sure”
    “Sweet! Thanks. By the way, I’m TJ. What’s your name?”

    Side note: This is also a fantastic way to ensure you will have multiple opportunities to get to know this person, as you will be having class with them more than once throughout a semester or quarter.

As you can see there are infinite variations of how to set this up. Sometimes you may ask a simple question, then follow with, “by the way, I’m ___. What’s your name?”

Here are 2 more great resources on mastering the introduction:

  1. How to start a conversation with absolutely anyone.
  2. 10 Foolproof Ways to Start a Conversation With Absolutely Anyone

Maybe one day I will write a whole post on great introduction techniques.

Anyways, now that you’ve got at least two great techniques to try, on to step 2!

Step 2: Ask Broad Closed-ended Questions
Now, we’ve introduced ourselves, and we didn’t totally crash and burn. It’s time to start talking.

The best way to go about this is to start with broad, but close ended questions.

Closed-ended questions can be described as questions that can be answered with yes/no or with a short phrase.

Now: many people may disagree with me here. They’ll say that this is the way you get stuck in the ‘interview’ trap.

Which is true. But that’s why we have step 3.

Regardless, it’s important to note: the number one goal of step 2 is to transition to step 3 as quickly as possible.

In my opinion it is often good to start with close ended questions because they’re easy to answer and you are asking very little of your new friend!

Think about it this way: Who are you more likely to answer:

Person 1: “Hey! What is your opinion on the recent development in the science world of gravitational waves being detected from black holes?”

james franco wait

OR

Person 2: “Hey, do you like sports?”

You are probably much more likely to respond to person 2.

Here’s why:
With person 1: This question is hard to answer.

Unless you are immersed in science daily OR you keep up with current events heavily, you may or may not even know about ‘the recent development’. Which makes you very unlikely to respond with something substantial. It is a pretty big ask from your new friend.

However, with person 2: This question is extremely easy to answer!

Everyone is familiar with sports, and it is easy to say “yes!” or “no!” And it is a very small ask from your new friend.

This strategy is based on The Law of Reciprocity from psychology.

The Law of Reciprocity basically says that if I have done something for you(say, bought your lunch yesterday) you will feel obligated to repay the favor.

However it works both ways: if I have done nothing for you, you feel no obligation to do something for me(in conversation, most of the time all you have done is introduced yourself).

Thus, during step two, we want to ask closed-ended questions because they ask very little of the new friend and they’re easy to answer!

Here are 5 great broad closed-ended questions you could try:

  1. Do you like sports?
  2. Do you like music?
  3. What do you do for work?
  4. What do you like to do for fun?
  5. Would you ever move out of the country?

Now, as I mentioned above, our goal here is to transition to step 3 as quickly as possible.

Often it will take 3-5 close ended questions before you can find a good open-ended question to ask.

Step 3: Ask a Follow-up Question about their Answer

Alright, we introduced ourselves, and asked a closed-ended question(or three). This is the part where the conversation either takes off or crashes hard.

Our goal in this step is to ask a follow-up question about their answer from step 2.

This is the place where we want to ask open-ended questions. (Or questions that are likely to give us longer answers)

These are my 3 favorite types of open-ended questions:

  1. The origin: with these types of questions, you are asking about how they started doing whatever it is they were doing.For example:
    They played sports in highschool : “what got you into sports?”
    They work in finance : “what got you into finance?” or “how did you end up in finance?”
    They run triathlons : “when did you start doing triathlons?” or “how did you start doing triathlons?!”
  2. The opinion: with these types of questions, you are asking them to tell you their opinion. These questions work best when someone expresses a strong interest in something.For example:
    They love hip hop : “no way, who’s your favorite artist, and why?”
    They love to travel : “cool! what has been your favorite place to go?” – “why?” / “what made ____ your favorite?”
  3. The explanation or story: with these questions, you want to asking they how they did something.For example:
    They are a pre-med major : “how in the world do you do that?” or “how did you end up doing that?”
    They backpacked across europe : “no way, what was that like?” or “how did you prepare for that?”

snl what was that like

Generally an open ended question will start what, why, how. Some other good words to work in these questions are: tell me or describe.

Step 4: Repeat steps 2-3 until you can get them to tell a story, or explain something to you

Then, with step 4, you simply rinse and repeat. Once you run out of good open ended questions you can end the conversation, or you can ask another close ended question and start over.

There are infinite variations to this process, so you may have some questions. I did my best to address the commonly asked questions in the last section of the post.

Before that though, it is crucial to understand the most important piece of this puzzle…

The Question Stacking Method : The most important thing you must do

One of the most difficult things to do as a human is to socially ‘fake it’.  And even if you can fake it, it can be exhausting over time.

I for one, HATE faking it. It almost feels plastic.

So how can you stop faking it? Even when you’re letting the other person lead the conversation?

The easiest way to carry conversations without feeling plastic is by cultivating an insatiable curiosity for other people.

In fact, the real secret to holding deeper conversations with anyone you meet is by cultivating insatiable curiosity for them.

Think about it this way: You and your mother(or someone whom you have a good relationship with) have many differences, yet you don’t feel like you’re faking it when you talk to her about her interests.

Why?

Because you genuinely want to know about what she is into. NOT because you like what she’s talking about, but because you like what she’s talking about.

The emphasis here is on this natural curiosity and interest in her.

Look at the friendships you have(or have had in the past), and honestly evaluate them. Yes, often there is a common interest that you both may have bonded over. But over time, you still talked to them about their other interests without feeling fake. Interests you care nothing about.

Why? I’ll let Noah explain:

if you're a bird, i'm a bird

Noah is interested in Allie, thus he has interest in her interests.

“If you’re a bird, I’m a bird.”

The easiest and best way to do this is to become genuinely interested people.

It is often much easier said than done(like most good things in life). So how can you do this?

This is largely dependent on you personally. For me, the best way I know how to cultivate interest in other people is by reading biographies of successful people.

This helps show me that there is no one-path to success. There is no one-personality that always wins. There is no one-story that they always tell(or live).

It is through what makes them unique that makes them successful.

It is through what makes someone unique that makes them interesting. And I want to know what makes people unique.

For you, it may be something else completely. I may write a post on the process you must go through to cultivate this interest.

What you have to do now is to commit to cultivating this interest in others. For some, this could be reading biographies like me. For others, it may require you to practice suspending judgement of others. For others still, it make take a ‘gamification’ of their social life-making it a game to see how much they can learn about others.

Once you commit fully to becoming more interested in others, the process will begin to reveal itself.

The Question Stacking Method : FAQ

Q: 'How do I keep from running out of things to say?'
Q: 'How do I have deep conversations?'
Q: 'How can I know when someone is tired of talking to me? Or like how to know when someone no longer wants to be in the conversations?'
Q: 'How can I know when to end the conversation at the right time, so as to end it on a positive note?'
Q: 'How can I make the other person want to listen to me? How can it be a real conversation if I’m never doing the talking?'

So here’s what I want you to do:

The reality is, it doesn’t matter how many posts like this you read. It only matters how many you take action on. Positive change doesn’t happen from the acquisition of knowledge. Positive change comes from the application of knowledge.

You need to take action. The best way is to enroll in my free five day mini-course.

Today, or this week, when you get an opportunity to talk to someone, practice the Question Stacking Method. See if you can make the conversation all about them. See if you can cultivate a feeling of curiosity about that person.

And see if it doesn’t make carrying a conversation a little easier.

Then, I want to make a request for two things:

Comment on this post, and ask me any questions you have, or share an experience you have with this method.

Then think of one friend(or colleague) who may struggle with conversational skills, and could use this to improve their conversational skills. Now share this post with them.

That’s it! I’m looking forward to seeing your responses.

  • Richard Szarvas

    Awesome post TJ, thank you for sharing it.

    I remember that on many occasions when I was trying to talk to a new person I often felt like I was interrogating her/him but now with this strategy in my pocket it will not happen again.

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