As I’ve been meeting more incoming students, I am mindful of how start a conversation with them. Initial conversations can be awkward, but they don’t have to be, and I’m glad to welcome people into conversation.
I regularly listen to the NPR quiz show “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!” Whenever a caller comes on, the host, Peter Sagal, asks two questions. These are the questions that I like to use: (1) “Where are you calling from?” and (2) “What do you do there?”
Now, these may seem standard questions, but what I appreciate is how Sagal follows up on them. He doesn’t just accept the answer as a piece of information, but uses it to continue to draw the caller into a friendly space.
Sagal: “Hi, you’re on Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!”
Caller: “Hi, Peter! This is Pam!”
Sagal: “Hey, Pam, thanks for joining us! Where are you calling from?”
Caller: “I’m calling from Santa Barbara, California.”
Sagal: “Oh, beautiful Santa Barbara! That’s what people not in LA think LA is actually like. How is it out there?”
Sagal: “I bet it is. What do you do there?”
Caller: “I’m a high school teacher.”
Sagal: “Oh, neat. What do you teach?”
Caller: “9th grade English.”
Sagal: “Oh, I bet that’s got to be fun. How do you like it?”
Caller: “Well, it’s great. It’s given me lots of experience answering silly questions, so I’m all prepared for this game.”
Sagal: “Ha! I bet!”
So in this exchange, it wasn’t just about learning that Pam is a 9th grade English teacher in Santa Barbara. The follow up questions were meant to dig into her experience in that area. They open up new avenues of conversation. Yes, this is small talk, but small talk opens the door for deeper connection. It’s always good to get practice with small talk.