Create Great Conversation at the Dinner Table

Amazing dinner conversations don’t just happen by accident, they are intentionally created by you.

We have all spent hours around the dinner table but what where the kind of conversations have you remembered? When we invite others to our table, we have the perfect opportunity to create conversation that builds lasting friendships.

Conversation that encourages each other – inspires others.

Many of us function with a large percentage of our conversations in a phone-to-phone setting.  Sitting at a dinner table, face to face with someone can feel intimidating and vulnerable.  It takes work to keep conversation going. Often I hear the comment “how do I know what kind of conversation to have or what should I talk about?  What do you do when the conversation has come to a lull and the room is silent”?

Growing up in a home where we always had guests I learned to interact with others on a personal level.  I felt most comfortable being myself in this setting.  As I grew older I began to feel more self conscious and somewhere believed a lie that I was not good with words or that I did not have the ability to make good conversation with others. I would second guess myself and was my own worst critic.

I could feel the panic rising when conversation would stop and no one seem to know what to say next. That awkward moment where we all sat there staring at each other made the few seconds feel like hours!

I have picked up so useful tools over the years to create good conversation at the dinner table, it is part of being a host. These will help set you up to win at any dinner conversation.

Here are five tools to help you learn how to navigate these moments, giving you confidence to invite others over, enjoy dinner, and deepen your friendships.

Tool #1

Set the stage and create an environment friendly to conversation.  Dinner music is always a nice touch for your meal, but you must be able to hear what is being said, so keep the music at a volume level that is not distracting to your guests.

Tool #2

If you throw a tennis ball and the person catches the ball and never throws it back the game of catch will be over very quickly.  Conversation can be the same way, if you ask a question that only requires a yes or no answer then the conversation will end very quickly.  However if you ask a questions that requires a longer response it can open the conversation to go back and forth like bouncing a ball back and forth to each other.
Having a list of questions in advance will set you up for success. Take a few minutes to write a few question options in your phone and review them before your guests arrive. Questions will not only allow the conversation to keep moving but allow you to learn more about your guests!
Here are a couple to help you get started:
  • What kind of movies do you like to watch?
  • What is your favorite movie?
  • What is your favorite vacation spot?
  • What do you like to do for fun outside of work?
  • What is one of your fondest memories?
  • What has been the best thing about your week?
Don’t be afraid to follow up with a second question.  The more they share, the more comfortable they are and usually the deeper the conversation will go.
Additional questions to ask:
  • How did that make you feel?
  • Can you give us more details?
  • Do you think you would have given the same answer 10 years ago?
Asking more questions keeps the conversation going back and forth like the analogy of the tennis ball.
You can find an extensive list of questions in my book, The Lost Art of Hospitality: Making People Feel Welcome in Your Home” The Lost Art of Hospitality in the chapter, Keeping Conversation. We cover topics such as how to deal with awkward conversations, how to deal with heated topics and learning to include everyone in the conversation.

Tool #3

Be a good listener. Listen to what they are saying and be mindful to not be the only one talking. This may sound obvious, but it is a skill and requires some discipline.  Make mental note of what they are sharing so you know how to engage back with them.  Take it a step further and jot some things down in your notes about them to help you remember for the next time.  Perhaps, they had a big project at work coming up, an anniversary of the death of a loved one, or a difficult exam.  Listen in conversation for mentions a favorite movie, snack, drink, love language or gift idea that can be used in the future to show them you care.

When we invite them to come again I already have some things to ask them about from our previous conversation.  I will try an add an extra special touch to the visit by having a drink I know they like, or making a dessert they mentioned loving as a kid.  It’s a small thing and yet it can speak volumes to them.

Tool #4

Don’t Overthink it!  Conversation doesn’t have to be that hard. This is coming from a girl who doesn’t love to make conversation.  I have had to work hard to not let my mind make it more than it is.  I have to let go of fear, let go of my own lack of confidence and worry in what the person on the other side of the table may think of me.  I have learned to be fully present, to enjoy and learn from what others are saying and be intentional about initiating questions to get the conversation going!

Tool #5

Encourage your guests even if you don’t fully agree with what they are sharing.  Your friends have taken a risk to share parts of their heart and journey with you.  Take time to thank them for being willing to share.  When you don’t agree it is not always necessary to make a public service announcement.
Ask questions like:
  • How did you come to that conclusion?
  • Why do you feel that way?
Choosing to have conversation with the goal being connection disarms the need to agree.  The goal is to learn about them and see why they feel a certain way about a subject that you may not feel the same way about.
The goal of connecting with one another getting to know someone better is a beautiful gift to your friendship.  These tools will improve your conversation around the dinner table whether it is with family or friends.
What are some questions that would be meaningful to you?