When to Stop Talking in a Conversation

Often in both conversations and in presentations a speaker does not know when to stop. In our digital world, the initials TMI have become common in response to a person who does not know when to stop talking and thus reveals “Too Much Information.” This article is centered on conversations.

Although hard to keep a count when you are engaged in a conversation or meeting, try to keep your comments under 30 seconds unless you are the expert and your information is crucial for the other person(s) to have. Space your comments so that other people comment before you speak again.

If you are conversing with just one person, ask him or her a question so that you become the listener. When the person begins to shift his or her position in the chair is a good time to stop and ask an open questions, such as “What are your thoughts on…” or “How do you feel about this decision?”

If you are giving an example, do your best to keep the length under two minutes. A long story does not work in the give-and-take dynamic of a conversation. One way to keep your example within two minutes is to leave out details that do not relate directly to the point of the story. We don’t care what you had for lunch that day unless that detail is germane to your point. Nothing is more exasperating than an abundance of irrelevant detail.

Don’t follow another person’s illustration about a vacation he or she took to Arizona and the Painted Desert with your own story about your traveling to the Outback in Australia. “One-upmanship” is not a polite response. Simply nod your head and respond with something such as, “That had to be a beautiful scene.”

Don’t dwell on the negative or what might be considered gossip. Keep the conversation upbeat and avoid the “He said” “She said” dialogue.

Probably the most frequently told story about President Calvin Coolidge is the one where an important guest seated beside him at dinner told him he had to talk to her: “You must talk to me Mr. Coolidge. I made a bet today that I could get more than two words out of you.”

Coolidge answered: “You lose.”

We do not want to have the reputation of saying as little as President Coolidge. If we know when to stop talking, however, when we do speak, our words will have more impact on those who are listening.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at steveboyd111@gmail.com.

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