Smart Conversation Catalysts

Not an extensive theory, just some examples we use at 31Volts.
These first examples we applied at creative sessions or other group ‘things’.

Personal name-stickers
Welcome the participants and ask them to write their name on a sticker. Give them markers to add a drawing which tells something about them.

/ Drawings help people to open up and start conversations with others.
/ Make an example yourself.
/ No need to lay-out the sticker, simple ones are more accessible.

Jan likes ice-skating

Tell about objects
“What’s in your bag? & Can you tell something about the thing most important for you?”
“What is the most valuable object in your purse? & Why?”
“What’s the drawing on your name-sticker? & What does it tell about you?”

/ Tell participants: “The good thing about these questions is: all the answers are right, as long as it really is your story.”
/ For most people this is less scaring than to be asked to tell something about themselves.

"What's in your bag?"
Practice what you preach: content of my bag. (Click to see what’s most important.)

1 minute interview
Or: “introduce your neighbour”. Ask participants to make a couple with somebody they do not know yet. Ask them to find out each others expectations and some cool stuff about the other in 1 minute each. And: to find something you have in common as a couple. (Like both born in Amsterdam, collecting stamps, an aunt in New York, playing tennis or Koi carp breeding…) Usually we join in this technique as well and facilitators mix between participants. Start an alarm clock and make sure to use your 2 minutes to ‘interview’ each other quickly.
After the 2 minutes (which usually become 5 :-) ask couples to save the best for the beers. Start randomly, everybody gets another minute each to introduce the other person plenary.

/ People like this.
/ People are less shy and more into storytelling while introducing somebody else.
/ ‘What do we share?’ doesn’t give the right answer; thinking and open questions are needed.
/ How much you can learn in 2 minutes! (Especially eye-opener for employees who ‘really have to start talking with their customers’)

‘Stupid questions’
The following examples we applied ‘in the field’.
We asked people obviously waiting for the train on a railway platform: “Can I ask you something, what are you doing?”
“What is the most valuable present that you ever gave to somebody? And what is the most valuable present you ever received?”
On a serious gaming-event we asked people “What does ‘to play’ mean for you?” This brought us some really interesting conversations and insights. (BTW We made a short movie with some of the quite different [Dutch] answers.)

/ You need some good, open questions and time to listen to the answer.
/ Bringing a notebook or a camera makes these questions dead serious. Most people understand immediately that ‘waiting’ is not the answer we’re looking for and ‘value’ isn’t about money.

We are curious: what are your conversation catalysts? And please let us know if you have any ideas on how ours can be improved.



At 31Volts we love people, design and innovation. Occasionally we take the time to share our thoughts on this blog. Like what you see? Let's get in touch!

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