Ask Tad: How Do I Start Conversations Online?


A note from Tea (aka The Chef): Bartenders are fabulous listeners, and Tad is one of the best. If you’ve got a question related to listening, conversations, or developing relationships with your prospective clients, he’d love to answer it. Just use our Contact form and you might be featured next!

Today’s question comes to us from Heat Dziczek, a health coach in Arizona:

I don’t know how to ask questions to get people to answer them — especially online. I love listening to people. Have spent most of my life as “the stranger on the train.” But to solicit answers? I’m stumped when it comes to getting people to tell me their stories. 

Great question, Heat. It’s one that I’m sure lots of people struggle with. After all, getting people to share their stories with us is über important if we want to build trust and relationships with them.

Here’s what I’ve learned in my years as a bartender. Maybe these tips will help you, too.

Humans need to be seen.

I start my best conversations simply by acknowledging someone’s presence.

They walk up to the bar. If there’s a crowd of people already there, they might wonder, Does he even see me? 

Even if I’m busy, I need to make eye-contact and smile. Let them know I’ll be right there.

Then they relax.

It’s the same everywhere.

Before someone will share their story with you, they need to be seen. You’ve got to look them in the eye, smile and show them that you know they exist.

Doing this kind of thing in person can be hard enough for introverts. And depending on your comfort level with one-on-one conversations, it can be just as difficult to do this virtually, too. (Tea, our Chef, wrote this great blog post that can help with in-person stuff and this one for engaging your fans online.)

Try this online: Like and comment on the Facebook posts of your prospective customers. Even better: share the links that they post. This is the virtual equivalent of I see you. You’re somebody to me.

Make Yourself Approachable


Since our stories are always personal, we need to feel a certain amount of safety and trust before we actually open up.

It’s my job to make sure my customers know I’m there for them — if and when they want to talk.

I smile. I have a soothing voice. I take the lead by asking an easy question. How was your day?  

The signals I send (my body language as well as my words) help them see me as approachable.

I can tell how ready someone is to talk by the length of their response. Fine means go away and leave me alone. Longer replies usually mean I’m open to chatting a bit.

Try this online: Make sure your profile picture paints you as approachable. Are you smiling? Looking at the camera (making eye contact)? Next: ask a fun, easy question that says I’m interested in you and your life. (Remember: easy questions first!)

Don’t Bring the Menu Too Soon

Lots of folks like to eat their dinner at the bar. But the one thing that can kill the mood is to have the bartender slap a menu in front of you, even before you get your drink. Nobody wants to feel rushed.

I want you to feel like it’s okay to unwind a bit first. So I’ll ask if you’d like to see a menu after I get you your drink.

It’s easy to forget that quality banter takes time. We don’t just open up, willy-nilly to anyone.

Try this online: Establish a foundation with people first. Get to know them as people. Be empathetic and show them you’re listening. A little I hear you! goes a long way.

It Takes Two to Have a Conversation

When the time is right, I’ll share a bit about myself so folks feel like I’m invested in the relationship, too. But I keep my thoughts short and do three times as much listening as I do talking.

Try this online: Take the first step in the story-sharing process, it helps people (especially the shy ones) feel safe. Be patient. When you feel like someone might be ready to share, reach out to them individually and ask them to fill out your survey or share their stories with you in a short telephone call or Skype conversation.

Context Matters

Ambiance is important. If you wanted bright light and sunshine, you’d be outside — not in a bar.

Here at the Bistro, I dim the lights a bit, play some funky jazz in the background (but at a volume conducive to talking) and make sure my bar and stemware sparkles.

All these things help put folks at ease and feel comfortable. And when they’re relaxed, a conversation is a whole lot more likely to happen.

If you want folks to open up, make sure you’re in a welcome and relaxing atmosphere first. And if you don’t have control over the ambiance, do your best to move your conversation somewhere else.

Try this online: A one-on-one conversation — either via text or video conference — will yield more details than comments shared in public spaces. Invite people to share their thoughts privately whenever possible. A Skype conversation goes a lot further than a comment on a Facebook post.

Hopefully, these tips will help you feel more confident about starting conversations online. I promise if you make a point to practice them on a regular basis, it will get easier for you to reach out to people.

Your turn: Do you have any tips to add to this? Was there something I didn’t cover? Belly up to the comments bar and let’s talk!