The ideal size of a conversation

Did you ever notice that some days you just seem to be rock-star funny and other days you struggle with awkward silences? I started wondering about that effect, and about the differences between the "Thinkers & Drinkers"(*) gatherings I go to and my blogger meetups. There are different dynamics in conversations of different sizes.

Two people: there is the potential for intimacy and trust, but it can be hard work keeping the conversation flowing. Things can be said between two people that can't be said in almost any other context. The flip side is that there are no witnesses, so either person can deny having said something if it gets repeated later.

Three or four: it's like having two people, but it gives one or two people an opportunity to think longer before speaking. In conversations of this size, this little delay can help me be very funny or very thoughtful.

Six to eight: everybody gets to hear everything and comment on everything; there are a variety of viewpoints but it remains one conversation. It can be quite thoughtful, but everyone has to take care to keep their comments brief and to the point. This size is where Thinkers & Drinkers works best, in my opinion.

Ten or more: the gathering breaks into more than one conversation. People occasionally move from one to the other, for example, if everyone is sitting at a long table, the people in the middle can talk to either side - but usually not both at once.

Twenty on up to over 100 people: everyone is free, indeed almost obligated, to wander from one conversation to the next. It becomes a cocktail party. Each conversation is 3-5 people if standing, or more if seated at large tables like at a wedding reception. You can have as funny or as thoughtful a conversation as you like, because there are plenty to step into.

What kinds of conversations do you want to have?

(*) 'Thinkers & drinkers' is an idea I adopted from George Nemeth, who used it as a format for some of our blogger meetups back in '08. Each person writes down a question--but not their name--and throws it in a hat. One by one they're pulled out and discussed. Wondering about its origins, I just Googled it. It seems to crop up in a variety of places (esp. Ohio for George's variant spelling "thinkrs & drinkrs") but it hasn't coalesced around a unifying theme, organization, or a home on the Web. I'm still not sure where it originated.


  1. Interesting question about what kinds of conversations a person wants to have. I just had a thought this weekend that I'm feeling all talked out lately.

    Usually that means I need some new material. I think it could be difficult to sustain interest in a single topic over a long period of time, don't you?

  2. Hi Donna, I was hoping you'd see this!

    When I feel talked out, it's almost always because I'm thinking about something I want/need to talk about, but I haven't thought it through yet.

    And yeah, I do eventually run out of things to say about a subject. Although as of this evening, I have managed yet again to harp on face-to-face communication....