In my last several years working for Boeing, I rode in a vanpool. Sometimes I drove, and sometimes I just sat. In the times that I just sat, I noticed something interesting. If I simply mentioned something, even just a single word, the conversation in the van would change to the subject that I mentioned. I pointed that out once and explained that I had been placed in the vanpool as a psychological researcher to observe vanpool conversations. Of course it was a joke, but the process of uttering a single word to change the whole conversation was impressive.
One day, the single word influence was challenged by my fellow riders. They swore they wouldn’t say anything, no matter what word or subject I suggested. I thought about it for a few seconds and then said the single word that proved my theory, “shoes”.
Immediately, the van went quiet, and it remained that way for a minute or two, but you could literally feel the tension building. The vanpool was roughly even between men and women, and as I suspected, one of the women finally broke. In tones of desperation she said she could no longer stand the strain. And off went the conversation about shoes.
I can’t give you much advice about the best words to use. I tried “dinosaurs” once. That worked pretty well. I think you have to know your audience well enough to know what they will talk about easily. Don’t tell them what you’re doing, simply pick a word and say it aloud. See what happens.
Let us know how well it works by commenting on this particular blog!