Friday, December 15, 2017

Nine Conversation Starters for People Without the Gift of Gab

Start the Conversation
There was a time when I was envious of people who could walk up to a total stranger and strike up a conversation. You’ve seen them, standing in line at the grocery store and before long they are engaged in conversation with the people around them. Intrigued passersby stop for a moment to contribute a few words to the conversation. Pretty soon, it begins to look like a party in the grocery store line. Everybody is laughing and having a good time. These conversation starters have the gift of gab. They may have been born with that talent, and that’s all good. But, how does the average person gain the ability to be a conversation starter, too?

Hopefully, by the time you finish reading this blog post you will have some great ideas to help you develop your conversation starter skills.

Gain The Confidence of a Conversation Starter

I use to be filled with anxiety over the thought of starting conversations. If I am being wholeheartedly truthful, I must admit that I was afraid of rejection and criticism. I was afraid people would think I was too presumptuous or nosey. I was a business professional, still, at business meetings and social events I would be that person who stood at the back of the room or sat at the table in the corner. It wasn’t that I didn’t like talking to people; it was just that I didn’t know what to say to start a conversation. I waited for people to approach me first.

I had a desire to come out of my shell and be a conversation starter, so I started attending seminars about becoming more confident in social settings. I started reading books about public speaking, and most importantly, I started applying what I learned. The experience gave me the confidence to be the person who begins conversations instead of being the person who sits in the corner.

In this blog post, I share the important tips I learned to apply when approaching people. I hope these tips help you as much as they helped me to become comfortable starting conversations.

Rules for Starting Great Conversations

After gaining confidence, I had to learn the art of conversation. What do I say to people when I approach them? How do I get them to respond?

Before you begin talking to people, there are a few basic rules to consider.
  • Watch people's body language to determine whether or not they are likely to be interested in talking to you. If you approach someone and they look away, turn away, or walk away, this is an indicator that they want to be left alone. Likewise, if they look like they are in a hurry, don’t try to stop them to strike up a conversation; they will only resent you for delaying them from getting to their destination. On the other hand, if they make eye contact with you, if they smile, nod, or wave, then it is worth the effort to approach them with light conversation.
  • Start the conversation with a question. Ask an open-ended question so that if the person is going to respond, they must respond with something other than a yes or no answer.
  • When you ask your question, make your question personal, but not intrusive. Personal would be a question related to what the person is wearing, carrying, or doing. Intrusive would be to ask about their marital status, religious belief, or political preference. Also, make sure you are genuinely interested in hearing the person’s answer.

Nine Conversation Starters

A question is the easiest a way to start a conversation. As the person answers your question, you may find points of interest that can feed follow-up questions and tidbits of information that can help you extend the conversation.

Following the rules mentioned above, here are nine conversation starters. These are general questions you can ask almost anyone. Be sure to fine-tune your question to make it relate to the person and the current situation you are in at the moment.

Even if you do not have the gift of gab, these nine conversation starters should help you begin some worthwhile and memorable conversations.
  1. If you could be anywhere but here, where would you be right now? This question works well when you are standing in a long line at the grocery store. You’d be amazed at the light-hearted responses you get.
  2. How do you know the host? This is the perfect question to ask at a house party, especially when you don’t know the people in attendance. You will, most likely, learn about the host’s friends, plus gain valuable insight about the host.
  3. How do you usually celebrate Christmas? This is a great question to ask during special events. You could even ask this question if you are at a grocery store or department store and you see someone shopping for a special occasion. Noticing what’s in their shopping cart, and wanting to strike up a conversation, you could relate the question to the specific occasion, such as Halloween, Thanksgiving, or birthday.
  4. What is the best thing that happened to you so far today? I like this question because it actually gets the person to think and at the end of the conversation, you and the person you were talking to are a little happier after talking about something positive. You could even extend the question to ask about their week, month, year, or even their last five years.
  5. What is your New Year’s Resolution? Naturally, this is a great question to ask during the end-of-year holidays. You could ask this question anywhere at any time.
  6. What brought you here today? Ask this question of anyone at a party or business event. In fact, this would actually be a fun question to ask in a grocery store line. People are obviously there to shop, but the answers they give when asked this question are often fun to hear. Like the time a man was asked what brought him to the store today. He said, "The cat!" Everybody within hearing distance chuckled. Then he pointed to his car parked curbside in the parking lot. He called it a cat because he liked its sleekness. It was a sports car and it was indeed sleek.
  7. Who are you named after? Before asking this question, always compliment the person on their name. Of course, this question only works if you know the person’s name, perhaps after asking them or seeing their name on a name tag.
  8. How is your day going? This is such a general question it could be asked anytime, anywhere.
  9. What do you think about [INSERT TOPIC]? Insert the topic that is pertinent to where you are and what you are doing. For instance, if you are at a sporting event, you could ask about a team, the score, the coach, the crowd, and so on. If you are at a conference, you could ask about the keynote speaker, one of the workshops, or the atmosphere. If you are at the grocery store, you could ask about a food item that is for sale, the long checkout line, etc.

Start Talking!

So there you have it folks! Nine conversation starters that are simple to incorporate into your daily, business, and social life. Whether the person you want to talk to is a family member, friend, co-worker or a total stranger. These questions will help you start your next conversation with confidence.

Book Recommendation

There are many books on the market about how to become a conversation starter, but the one I recommend is, “Always Know What to Say: Easy Ways to Approach and Talk to Anyone,” by Peter W. Murphy – a peak performance expert. This book is sold in Kindle, and in this book, the author writes about the fear and anxiety that cause people to avoid socializing. Murphy says that before we engage in a conversation, we need to establish a goal for the conversation.

Here is an excerpt from the book:
“…make a point of having a goal for each conversation whether that be to establish and maintain rapport, discover commonality or to look for shared values and beliefs. When you do this, the conversation will have a direction and life of its own that you simply steer.”

Murphy also says we should pay attention to feedback. We should be able to determine by looking at the person whether or not they are approachable. If you are already engaged in a conversation, watch their facial expressions and overall body language. 

I hope you find this book helpful.

Video Recommendation

The following video, with Ashley Weston and Dorian is entertaining and informative. Ashly is a celebrity menswear stylist and her fiancé, Dorian is a former entertainment executive. Both of these celebrities work in an industry that is very social. Being expert conversationalists is a career enhancement tool. Watch, “7 Greatest Conversation Starters That Actually Work,” as they share some effective conversation starters for all occasions.

Research for this post:

Alyssa Raiola. 6 Conversation Starters Better Than “What Do You Do?”. February 18, 2016. Greatist. Last visited website 12/15/2017.

101 Conversation Starters. Conversation Starters. Last visited website 12/15/2017.

Charlotte Hilton Andersen. 37 Conversation Topics That Make You Interesting. Reader’s Digest. Last visited website 12/15/2017.

Jessica Stillman. 45 Conversation Starters for the Thanksgiving Table. Inc. Last visited website 12/15/2017

Thank you for reading today’s post. It is my hope that you find confidence in starting conversations with others. So, go out and start talking! And while you are at it, have a marvelous day!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

How to Get Through the Holidays After the Loss of a Loved One

The Holidays!

Getting through life is difficult enough, and for some people, getting through the holidays keeps them up at night worrying about the never-ending tasks involved with planning holiday meals, events, decorations, entertainment, and trips. And, let us not forget that there are the regular day-to-day tasks that still have to be maintained simultaneously.

Holidays are those special times of the year when we make special efforts to spend quality time with family and friends. We look forward to massive meals, desserts, gift-giving, laughter, and reminiscing that goes on when loved ones party together.

But, for some people, the holidays are a gloomy time of year. For people who are grieving over the loss of a loved one, the holidays are joyless. For some, the weariness can lead to depression and although the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that suicide is low during the holiday season, when left unattended, long-term depression can lead to suicide. It is sad when that happens. Depression is no joke and so if there is a way that I can help at least one person recover from depression, I do what I can. Sometimes, all it takes to help is to reach out with words of hope, and so I hope you or someone you know finds comfort in today’s voice of hope as I share some of the ways I have learned to cope with the loss of a loved one.

The Loss of My Father

When my father passed away, I went to stay with my mother for a period of time. It was good for both us to be together. We kept each other company as we grieved the loss of one of the finest men on earth. I remember how every now and then, I would look over at my father’s comfy recliner chair and then suddenly burst into quiet tears when I didn’t see him sitting there. We would have visitors from time to time, and whenever anyone would visit, I imagine out of pure respect for my beloved father, those who knew that the recliner chair was my father’s chair would skip over it and sit beside it or somewhere else in the living room. So, my father’s chair remained unoccupied for what seemed like forever.

My father was the pillar of our family and when he left this earth, he took a piece of my heart with him.

I grieved for a considerable time, and it was especially difficult for me to get through the first major family event without his smiling face and witty humor. His presence easily filled up a room with warmth and joy. I longed to hear one of his jokes and bust out in laughter just one more time.

How Did I Cope With the Loss?

My father was all about creating memories. And, it’s a good thing, because I have a lot of good memories of him. My father was a fun character. No matter what he did, he did it with humor. Jokes, the drier the better, abounded in our household. Some days were filled with so much laughter my cheeks would ache from laughing so much. It was these memories of him that kept me motivated to be strong throughout the days following his departure.

The Good Times

I would think about the good times we shared and I would remember that my father was a good man who was strong in his faith. I knew that after leaving this earth, he was going directly to heaven. In heaven, he would no longer suffer the pain he suffered from the illness that took his life on earth. In heaven, he would receive an abundance of love. He would be welcomed into a world where everything is brighter and lovelier than anything imaginable by us on earth. I imagined my father sitting next to Jesus, telling his favorite jokes. The visual of my father and Jesus sitting in heaven laughing up a storm would tickle my heart and stir up an enormous amount of peace within me.

I coped by remembering the good times.

Music Soothes the Soul

I enjoy listening to music and the right song can elevate my mood to a level that brings me out of a slump in a very short period of time.

One song that helped me cope with the loss of my father is a song called, “You Wouldn’t Cry (Andrew’s Song) by Mandisa. According to Songfacts, Mandisa and her songwriting partner wrote this song for a grieving mother who lost her son at childbirth. The song is written from the son’s perspective – what it is like to be in heaven and how his mother should not cry because heaven is such a wonderful place.

This song helped me realize that my father is in a good place and he is doing well. This song reminded me that instead of grieving, I should be happy that he was experiencing the joy of being in heaven. I hope this song provides you with the same comfort that it has provided to me over the years.

You Wouldn't Cry (Andrew's Song)
By Mandisa, Copyright 2009 Sparrow Records. All rights reserved.

Hot Cocoa

One of the many things that I remember about my father is that he would use simple analogies to explain complex problems.

When I explain to people how I keep positive thoughts running through my head after a loss, sometimes, I use an analogy related to the idea of drinking a cup of hot cocoa. With this analogy, I don’t mean to make light of the loss of life and so I apologize, in advance, if I offend anyone.

I like hot cocoa. But, I am also lactose intolerant. In order to enjoy the hot cocoa, I have to take lactose enzyme tablets. Once I drink the cocoa, though the cocoa is gone, I am full and satisfied.

A cup of hot cocoa does not last forever. And, people do not live forever. Just as I enjoyed my cup of hot cocoa and the cup is empty now, so must I enjoy my loved ones while they are here with me because tomorrow they may be gone. And, just as I remember how delicious my cup of hot cocoa was, I remember how wonderful my loved ones were and I am happy I had the pleasure of knowing them.

Recovering From Loss

Just as I have to take lactose enzymes to drink a cup of hot cocoa, I use life resources to help me cope with the loss of loved ones. I listen to positive, uplifting music and audiobooks, I read books, I dance, I sing, and I spend time with other people because isolation is the one thing that keeps me from recovering from loss.

I read a lot, and whenever I want to discover information about something, I find a book, written by experts on the subject of interest. When I needed additional help in recovering from the loss of my father, I started reading books about the grief process and how to get back to feeling normal.

A friend recommended a book titled, “Life Lessons: Two Experts on Death and Dying Teach Us About the Mysteries of Life & Living,” by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and David Kessler. The writers do an excellent job of explaining what love is and isn’t. The book gives examples of how we can learn to love family and friends unconditionally. There is much satisfaction in loving unconditionally, so that when our loved ones have passed away, we know we gave them all the love we had, leaving us fulfilled and with less grief upon their passing.

Here is an excerpt from the Amazon description page.

"Each one of us at some point asks this question. The tragedy is not that life is short but that we often see only in hindsight what really matters.

In this, her first book on life and living, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross joins with David Kessler to guide us through the practical and spiritual lessons we need to learn so that we can live life to its fullest in every moment. Many years of working with the dying have shown the authors that certain lessons come up over and over again. Some of these lessons are enormously difficult to master, but even the attempts to understand them can be deeply rewarding. Here, in fourteen accessible chapters, from the Lesson of Love to the Lesson of Happiness, the authors reveal the truth about our fears, our hopes, our relationships, and, above all, about the grandness of who we really are."

I wholeheartedly recommend that you read this book because I believe you will find relevant answers and insight into the process of recovering from loss.

Sometimes You Will Struggle

Sometimes you will struggle and not even want to get out of bed. I get it. I certainly had many of those days. Fortunately, I learned that no matter how down and out I felt, I needed to gather up whatever energy I could find to help me get up and do something.

Sometimes you will not feel like singing. Sing anyway. Singing will occupy your mind. Singing will take your focus off of your grief, even if it is just for a short while.

Sometimes you will not feel like dancing. Dance anyway. Just like with singing, you will be less focused on the grief. Plus dancing may increase your serotonin levels (a chemical in the body that makes you happy).

Socialize! Being around other people provides similar benefits as singing and dancing. Grief drains your emotional energy, and when you surround yourself with caring people, you are bound to receive the hugs you need to help lift your emotional stamina.

Getting through the holidays after the loss of a loved one requires strength. It takes a desire, commitment, and oftentimes encouragement from others to help you get back on your feet again.

Being sad is part of the grieving process. Working toward recovering is also part of the grieving process. No matter how vulnerable you feel, being with others during the holidays is an excellent start toward your path of recovery.

Scripture of Hope

"If a man dies, shall he live again? This thought gives me hope, so that in all my anguish I eagerly await sweet death!" --Job 14:14 Living Bible

And so, I leave you with this final note of hope.

Celebrate the holidays in honor of your loved ones. Remember the good times that you had with them. Share the love they gave you with others so that the legacy of your loved ones linger on through you. Your loved ones would not want you to be sad, especially now. Instead, they would want you to be happy, knowing that they are living forever in a place where life is extraordinarily blissful.

I pray that you will be full of hope in the eternal life that we are promised after our time on earth has expired. I pray that you know that through the sacrifices of our Savior Jesus Christ, you have a standing invitation to enter into the gates of heaven. I pray that you know your faith-filled loved ones, upon entering into the gates of heaven are guaranteed to live a gloriously majestic life in our Lord’s world.

I pray that you have a wonderfully blessed and Merry Christmas!

Links in this blog:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Holiday Suicides: Fact or Myth? December 31, 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Visited Website 12/12/17.

Songfacts: Visited website 12/12/2017.

Serotonin: Article by James McIntosh, April 29, 2016. Serotonin: Facts, What Does Serotonin Do?, Medical News Today. Visited website 12/12/2017:

Friday, December 8, 2017

Welcome to Voice of Hope

In this (my first blog post), I want to give you a taste of what is in store for future blog posts. Hopefully, this first blog post will give you a feel for the style and intent of this blog. Hopefully, this blog post will inspire you to subscribe to receive updates as they are posted.

Here we go!

Today’s World
Today’s world is filled with strife and turmoil. Because of that, I need a place where I can find words of encouragement… words of hope to help get me through the day. Friends, I feel like I am a strong Christian woman, but there are times when I need help. There are times when I need a word, a scripture, or a song to help lift my spirit just enough to keep me moving through my day. Do you have days like that? I suspect some… maybe many of us do.

Listen, I don’t need anything profound or striking - just words that shake me up a little, words that make sense and words that help bring me out of a slump or downward spiral.

No matter how strong we are, if we are being honest with ourselves we know we have those days when things get out of hand and we need help to catch ourselves. We need a crutch to keep ourselves from falling. But, what do we hold on to? Where do we go? What do we do? So many questions!!! Right?!!!

For most of my adult life, I have been a Christian person. I have been a leader in Christian ministries, I held Bible study in my home, I even served as a worship leader. You would think I had it all together, Right?!!! Well, believe it or not, I have the same struggles as any ordinary person. I have the same questions, and the same desires to find solutions to everyday problems. Fortunately, I have parents who are the best counselors any person could ever have on earth. Unfortunately, when I was a child, I rebelled and did not apply much of what my parents tried to teach me, but now as an adult, I realize their approach to life works quite well, especially in a world that is filled with chaos.

After trying to live life my way, struggling, and failing, I decided to try living life the way my parents taught me to live. After all, as I recall, they always seemed to have it together no matter what was happening in the world.  Fortunately, I started recalling my parents' teachings and applying their wisdom to my life. Today, I am a happier person. Today, thanks to my mom and dad, I find that life is better when I apply their simple life habits to all life issues, both simple and complex.

Voice of Hope
I figured it out! My parents lived a simple life, but they had everything people need to live a glorious lifestyle. Quite simply, they had the best life has to offer. They did not have any secret or magical solutions. Quite frankly, they lived a life of simple, logical structure.

My father has left this earth and gone on to live in heaven. He is survived by his children and their mother... my mother. I love my parents and I have made it a life goal to learn to live the life that both of my parents lived and one that my mother still lives today. Following my parents' life lessons has made life easier for me and I want to share my parents' teaching with you, so I created the Voice of Hope page to share words and scriptures taught to me by my parents. I also include songs, and inspirational quotes that help keep my life moving forward when it feels like everything is crashing down on me. I hope the things I share here in this blog will help you as much as they have helped me.

Voice of Hope is not a place to find solutions. Instead, it is a place to find rest. It is a place to find peace of mind.

Yes, Voice of Hope has a Christian slant. That is because I was raised to be a Christian woman. And, today, I am a Christian woman with a desire to grow strong in the Christian world.

Even if you are not a professed Christian person, I hope you still find inspiration here. I promise not to be too “preachy.” At the same time, I promise to deliver wholesome concepts that are derived from Christian values. So, whether you believe in God or some other higher power; whether you believe in no God at all, I hope you find peace here at Voice of Hope.

Video of Hope
A song that lifts my spirit every time I hear it is a song called, The Prayer, originally sung by Andrea Bocelli and Céline Dione. The version of the song that I share here is sung by Josh Groban and Céline Dione. 

When you listen to Dione’s introduction of the person selected to sing the duet with her, you discover a message of hope for anyone aspiring to accomplish great things in their chosen life and/or career.

In this video, you will hear, prior to the performance, Dione introducing Josh Groban. She describes a young, aspiring singer who is asked, at a last minute, spur of the moment request, to stand in during a concert, for the great Andrea Bocelli. Then, after the performance, Groban shares a touching story of how honored he is to have had such a wonderful experience to be able to sing with the amazing Céline Dione.

Please listen to the following song in a quiet place of uninterrupted time. Feel the sense of peace as the music penetrates your soul and the lyrics move you to know that no matter what is going on in your life right now, things will get better.

Ladies and gentlemen, please click on the video to hear the amazing Céline Dione and Josh Groban in The Prayer.

Scripture of Hope
“For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe." 
--1 Timothy 4:10 Revised Standard 
Quote of Hope

"Infuse your life with action. Don’t wait for it to happen. Make it happen. Make your own future. Make your own hope. Make your own love. And whatever your beliefs, honor your creator, not by passively waiting for grace to come down from upon high, but by doing what you can to make grace happen… yourself, right now, right down here on Earth." --By Bradly Whitford
Bradly Whitford is an American actor and political activist.

Hope for Everyone
In this world, the United States of America, anyone, at any time, can have a moment just like the one experienced by Groban.

Be strong! Be creative! Be happy! Be you!

Blessings to you!

Marlene Bertrand
Writer, Voice of Hope

Photo Attribution:

Nine Conversation Starters for People Without the Gift of Gab

There was a time when I was envious of people who could walk up to a total stranger and strike up a conversation. You’ve seen them, stand...