Never Met A Verb I Didn't Like

By Wayne Elise

Effective conversation is about capturing the imagination of other people.

Try this exercise. Close your eyes and imagine a banana. If other thoughts intrude, go back to the banana. It’s yellow. It grows in a tropical climate. It’s what your mom sliced up and droppled into your Rice Krispies. Just keep thinking about that banana. If other non-banana thoughts intrude, push them out and go back to your fruit.

5… 4… 3… 2… 1…

Okay, you can stop now. I apologize. This is an impossible exercise. With all due respect to Buddhist Monks, if you’re like me, your mind just refuses to hold a constant, unmoving, static, boring image in mind for very long before it starts to wander.

We crave movement and change.

Now let’s try a slightly different exercise. Imagine a banana. But this time, do something with it. Peel your banana. Walk your banana over to a vat of boiling chocolate and dip it. Pull it out and watch the steam rise off the chocolate as it cools and hardens over your banana. Put your nose close and sniff.

Now imagine taking a bite. Chew your banana and swallow the mash. Feel it make it’s way down to your stomach and quench your hunger. Smile in satisfaction.

Okay. Chances are you stayed with our banana story the entire time. Your mind didn’t wander much.

People naturally focus on movement. Like most predators, our eyes are forward facing. That's so we can use ‘binocular summation’ to detect the smallest movement ahead in the bush. We are geared to detect and pay attention to movement. If we want people to listen to our conversation we should strive to stick more action in them.

Comedians often talk about Jokes Per Minute - JPM. They always trying to pump up their JPM. We can create a similar metric and call it Verbs Per Minute - VPM.  This is a metric to help us judge the quality of our conversation and storytelling.

This week let's try to focus on increasing our VPM. Here are some suggestions to help enable that:

* Make a conscious effort. It's easy to forget to work on our conversation skills once we arrive at work and the day gets busy. Try tagging a reminder in your calendar: '4 O clock meeting with IT team. Yo, use more Verbs to inspire.' 

* Rework your ritual conversations. We all recognize and participate in ritual conversations daily: "How are you?" "Fine, how about yourself?" "Good." "Good weekend?" "Yes. You?" "Splendid."

 Few people spend much time thinking on making these conversations more interesting. But it's a good place to start because you can work up something more 'verby' ahead of time. 

"How are you?"

"If you were to measure it on a scale from one to ten, you can write me up as an eight. Thanks for asking."


"Welcome to Starbucks. What can I get started for you?"

"I'll have a chocolate latte please, and if you can sprinkle in some extra love that would probably make me smile."

* Put in more Reaction Shots too. AKA, talk in the same way a film director films a movie. There are only a few type of shots in movie making. After the director hits us up with a few shots to establish the setting, she sets about showing us a series of Action and Reactions Shots. 

These two type of shots help each other. An action shot (man drives his car off a cliff) gives rise to a reaction shot. The people standing on the edge of the cliff cry out or they smile or they just stare expressionless. The flavor of their reactions tell us the meaning of the action we just witnesses. When a movie editor gets the raw footage from a director his primary task is to match action and reaction shots. 

Often we forget the importance of saying how we (or other characters in our conversation) feel. Instead we speak in judgements. "Holland Park is great." Right. That may be true, but that's a judgement. A judgement is an opinion disguised as a fact. It doesn't carry the personality of an emotion which is individual. Better to say, "I love Holland Park." This then leads to the natural use of more action in our conversation. We can then show how we love it. "I like walking my dog Betsy at seven o clock in the morning and enjoy seeing all the Russian nannies struggling to juggle their Starbucks and prams."

Okay, hope you enjoy these ideas and putting more verbs in your conversation. If you want to know more just page through the posts here on the site or come to a Conversation Camp and learn from me in person. I'd love to help.

All the best,


The Brilliance Of The Village People And What They Teach Us About Conversation


By Wayne Elise

♪ ♫ It's fun to stay at the ♪ ♫ It's fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A.♪ ♫

This morning Erika and I danced around the kitchen listening to Y.M.C.A. by The Village People. She's good at forming the letters. I guess I'm kinda sloppy.

"You're bending your arm way too far on the 'Y'," she says. "That's freaky and bad form. Stop it. Yuck."

The Village People were an unlikely success in 1978.

I can imagine the pitch by Jacques Morali to Neil Bogart at Casablanca Records.

"Mr. Bogart, thanks for meeting with me. I'd like you to produce a record performed by six gay men dressed in costumes representing cultural stereotypes."

"Off the top of my head, I'd say that's an awful idea. What stereotypes are you talking about?"

"A construction worker, a cop, an Indian, a soldier, a cowboy and a macho man."

"What's a macho man?"

"A guy who wears leather."

"People aren't ready for flamboyance on television. You can bite the head off a rat, but you can't be gay on television. And if we can't get on Merv Giffin, we can't make money. So I'm thinking you should get out of my office."

"Mr. Bogart, please hear me out. You've enjoyed success because you backed far out ideas. While other producers were trying to recreate Rod Stewart, you single-handedly created bubblegum pop at Buddha Records. You fused a hard rock Jewish band, comic-book characters with Nazi symbolism, and created Kiss. That was brilliant."

"It wasn't brilliant. It was a desperate. I spent the dough on Kiss, thinking at least I'd go down in flames."

"I respect your humble attitude Sir, but you were right about Kiss and you were right about Donna Summer. The Village People aren't just another gay act. They're a fusion group. Disco fused with West Village, fused with funk. That's why I brought this opportunity to you first. You're the king of fusion. Look at these promotional shots for The Village People."

"Very gay."

"And visually interesting. Everyone has a color TV now. The future is here and Merv Giffin is looking for color. The Village People are the group for our modern age. Don't you think so, or should I pitch this to Roger Hammer over at Island?"

"Okay Morali, move that suitcase full of white powder - which does not belong to me, carefully out of the way and sit down. Now, let's say I package these Village People. What's their first track going to be?"

"They got a great song called Y.M.C.A."

"Horrible title. Sing it."

"Lalala... Young man, there's no need to feel down. I said, young man, pick yourself off the ground. I said, young man, 'cause you're in a new town There's no need to be unhappy.

Young man, there's a place you can go. I said, young man, when you're short on your dough. You can stay there, and I'm sure you will find Many ways to have a good time.

It's fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A. It's fun to stay at the..."

"That's enough."

"There's also a nice bit of choreography, we're expecting will catch on."

"Forget about it. Your average record buyer doesn't care about choreography. What else you got?"

"We got one called In The Navy."

"About how uncool the Navy is?"

"Just the opposite, actually."

"I'm detecting a trend here."

"We got another about being a macho man."

"About the leather guy?"

♫♫ "Macho, macho man I gotta be a macho man Macho macho man I gotta be a..."

"Stop. Stop. Is that it?"

"Pretty much."

"I'm going to be honest with you Morali. The YMCA is a place for drug addicts and retards. The Navy, like all the branches of the military, has never been so unpopular. I don't know anything about macho men, but I'm pretty sure the record buying public has a low opinion of them too. These songs and this group is either the dumbest or the cleverest thing I've heard. So I'm giving you a shot. Take that bag of money over there and bring back a record."

"That's awesome, Mr. Bogart. You won't be disappointed. The Village People are going gold."

"I doubt it. But who knows? Wait. Don't literally take the bag. It's full of quaaludes - that don't belong to me. I was speaking metaphorically. See my secretary and she'll have you sign a horribly one-sided contract and cut you an insultingly small check. You'll get more when you nail a spot on Merv Giffin. Now, get out."

The Village People indeed went on to guest on The Merv Griffin Show and became a hit. They sold 100 million records. The United States Navy decided used their song "In the Navy" in a recruiting campaign. The Y.M.C.A. song along with the YMCA choreography became iconic hits forever played at weddings and karaoke nights.


I was recently working with a client who told me something felt missing in his conversations.

"I don't have any zing. People get bored of my conversations. I can see it in their eyes."

"How do these conversations go?" I asked.

"I drive to a college town on the weekends, so I can, you know, meet college girls."

"Of course. Go on."

"So I'm at this bar and this girl asks me where I'm from. And I tell her I live in Tinyville. It's an awful place so I try not to talk about it. I tell her I'm moving to Chicago as soon as my contract's up. Chicago's amazing. We talk about Chicago for awhile but then I can't really make the conversation personal."

"I see."

"What do you see?"

"What's wrong with Tinyville?"

"The people are bigoted and backward. There's nothing to do there. My coworkers are idiots. It's a depressing place. I can't wait to leave."

"I get it. Let me ask you, what's the first rule of conversation?"

"I don't know. Be a good listener."

"That's a good rule. But no. The first rule of conversation is don't be boring."

"Exactly. That's why I don't talk about Tinyville."

"And that's where you've made a logic error. No offense. The world is neither bad nor good, boring nor interesting. Only conversation makes it so."

"Trust me, no one wants to hear about Tinyville."

"You know The Village People?"


"They sang such hits as YMCA and In The Navy."

"Oh yeah. I know the YMCA song of course."

"Good. Then you'll understand. In my opinion, you've got to be more like the Village People. They took under-appreciated topics and made them hits.

You're not doing that. You're taking popular topics which have been done to death and trying to squeeze that much more interestingness out of them. A good rule of thumb is never share information people can just Google. What's the point? You're not enriching their lives in a unique way. It's boring. No offense.

I think you should try putting your focus on trying to see the things in your life in fresh ways. That'll force you to lean on your unique perspective and become a more interesting character. And now be a boring conversationalist. No offense."

"So you're saying I'm supposed to like Tinyville?"

"You're supposed to find things about it to appreciate and be able to articulate. Right now, your saying, your life is not interesting. That people should come back in six months. They don't want that. They want interesting conversation and characters and narrators right now."

"So I should just pretend I like everything about my life?"

"It's not pretending you like everything. It's selective focusing. That's what the Village People did and they sold 100 million records.

I bet there's a diner in Tinyville. Right? Diners are interesting. Where else can you be called 'honey' in public by a someone you don't know?"

"You're saying I should take girls to diners?"

"I'm saying you should talk about diners. Talk about the details of your town you're in right now, your present existence, all with an eye for the incongruities, the ironies, the characters.

You're so lucky. I wish I lived in a small town. Why do so many successful TV series take place in small towns? My wife really likes Veronica Mars. That was a small town. A small town has a chance to be unknown and drawn fresh. It can be a magical place in storytelling and in conversation."

"But Tinyville is not a magical place."

"That's only because you've chosen to not articulate it as one. It could be. There's a lot of value in making regular stuff interesting. Way more than the opposite. It's all a matter of your focus. What details do you chose to share."

"I don't know if I can do that."

"Sure you can because young man, there's a place you can go. I said, young man, when you're short on your dough. You can stay there, and I'm sure you will find Many ways to have a good time. It's fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A. It's fun to stay at the Y.M.C.A."

"You're so weird Wayne."

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Don't Compare

Often we feel stuck in our lives. This can be the case at this time of year with all the family and religious goings on. It's easy to compare ourselves to where our brother or sister or cousin is in life. Don't do that. Remember that people on Facebook, including yours truly, only put up the good stuff. They edit. No one's life is that fabulous. And many, many people are on drugs tocloak their unhappiness.

Just be you. Don't compare. That will help make you forget about yourself and just conversationally be with people. And when that happens you can just have fun with them. Thus you will be popular and thus you will get everyone inviting you to their parties and thus you will have sex with attractive strangers in the closet. Or something like that.

Bests, Wayne Check my Twitter for the latest thoughts