Fact: you have friends–which means that the person you’re dating needs to see you interact with those friends. Fact: you also have to charm the friends of the person you’re dating. PLUS, you’ve gotta be able to interact with colleagues, bosses, underlings, clients, because sometimes you have to bring your date along to work events (or you’re invited to be a date to someone else’s work event). Conclusion: if you can’t talk to a wide variety of people about a wide variety of subjects, you are going to look like a total douchebag.
Whoa! I know what you’re thinking–a lot of pressure! But it doesn’t have to be. With a little legwork, you can be prepared for almost any conversational circumstance. Lance gives some suggestions on being a conversational whiz here. He’s mostly talking about how to be witty on a date. My post focuses on topics you can use when conversing with people you don’t know well–whether that’s a date you met online, someone you’re picking up at a club, or a horrible work cocktail party or company picnic.
Here are some subjects near and dear to my own heart that almost anyone can learn about with a minimum of effort:
1. Your Location
Talking about your location is probably one of the most “natural” conversational topics at hand if you’re going to be introducing yourself to strangers. This means finding something out about the venue or some related topic. At my boyfriend’s company picnic at the zoo, I shared some knowledge about snakes and sting rays.
(sting rays = awesome)
Visit a bar or club’s website, if they have one, for some trivia about its history, especially if you go there often. Learning about the history of your town also falls under this category–whether you just moved someplace new and are curious or you’ve lived there for years and are sharing your knowledge. This can lead to recommendations for restaurants or things to do.
That restaurant sounds great! Wanna join me?
It is my own personal belief that Hollywood exists to make the world smaller–the existence of movie stars means that you can gossip with people you’ve never even met before. You can check out magazines like Star or People at Border’s, and then later that week when you catch the hottie in front of you checking out headlines at the grocery store, you can share the scoop: “I totally know who has Hollywood’s worst butt!” TV shows like Talk Soup can sum everything up for you in half an hour, or you can check out celebrity gossip websites like The Superficial.
3. Reality TV
Reality TV falls under a separate, but related category as Hollywood, but there’s no real substitute for watching it yourself. Just like you should follow Lance’s advice and pick a TV drama to watch weekly, you should seriously consider adding at least one reality tv show to your repertoire.
Some of my favorites include American Idol (because everyone watches it), Beauty and the Geek (because the plays on gender stereotypes are endless conversation fodder, and America’s Next Top Model (because it allows me to be catty and cruel). There are tons of blogs that gossip and speculate on these, and you’re just in time to catch The Bachelorette starting with the third episode.
(Who wouldn’t want to know what becomes of DeAnna?)
This may not be your bag, but remember that conversing with someone you don’t know is about making them feel comfortable, not belittling what they’re interested in.
This one’s a little tricky, because depending on the circumstance you have to be very careful not to offend the other person. However, in my experience you can introduce a topic or recent event as a statement of fact (“So, McCain’s the presumptive Republican nominee…”) or as a question (“Who do you think will get the Democratic nod, Clinton or Obama?”) and gauge your part in the conversation based on their response.
You can watch the straight news channels (they tend to rotate the same few stories throughout the day so you only need to catch half an hour while on the treadmill at the gym), or watch The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. There are also online venues like The Onion, which has funny stories about a variety of subjects, not just politics.
Mostly I’m throwing this one out there for the ladies–if you expect him to talk to you about America’s Next Top Model without making fun of you, then you need to suck it up and learn about what he likes. Also, not all guys are into sports–the BF hates watching sports, and finds himself at a conversational disadvantage at work events sometimes because that’s all the stuffy old engineers he works with talk about.
You can watch Sports Center or another recap show that gives you all the day’s highlights at once. And pick at least one favorite team that you will follow and talk somewhat knowledgeably about, to show you’ve got some substance.
6. Random Trivia
Dork it up! Watch How It’s Made on the Science Channel (lots of trivia on household objects) or Mythbusters on The Discovery Channel (hosted by special effects specialists, they blow shit up every week). Or just indulge your interest in something obscure but interesting. This has the effect of simultaneously making you an expert and increasing your social value, while also encouraging people to ask questions or feel comfortable sharing their own dorky interests.
My own personal rabid (ha! the pun’s coming, wait for it…) obsession with dog training techniques on The Dog Whisperer gives me something to talk about while also getting people to share their pet stories. Playing tv game shows like Jeopardy! will keep your brain sharp for the trivia games that lots of bars have, and then you can feel comfortable showing off your skillz over beer.
7. Food and Drink
Everyone loves food, so it’s also a natural. However, you’ll find that there’s a big difference between saying, “this is yummy” and actually knowing something about how to cook. The BF learned how to cook in college, which means he can not only speak knowledgeably about why something’s good or recommend a delicious restaurant based on someone’s preferences, he is also able to share shopping and cooking tips.
Learn something about how beer or your favorite liquor is made. If you’re going to a company barbecue, share your recipe for ribs. There are lots of shows like Hell’s Kitchen and Top Chef that let you blend reality tv with food, as well. Hell’s Kitchen, particularly, is amusing because I’ve never heard that much bleeped-out cursing in all my life!
(Credit to Fox.com for this smokin’ image…ha! Get it? Well, f%&k you, then.)
8. Sex & Drugs
Obviously this isn’t appropriate for every venue, but if you’re in a social circumstance or on a first date, it’s all up for grabs. My personal favorite way to introduce these topics is a game from college called “Never Have I Ever.” Each person completes the statement with some type of activity–smoked pot, gone skinny dipping, whatever. If you’ve done the action, then you have to drink. If you’re the only person to drink, then you have to tell the story.
Obviously this gets more fun the more people you have involved, and unless some of the people know each other well then you’re on the honor code, but even with two people it’s a decent time. It’s also a nice screening tool because you can pick something just risque enough to push their boundaries and either force an admission out of them, or get the opportunity to tell whatever story you’ve been saving. You can also reference Honey and Lance–did you check out that steamy Seattle story?
9. The Economy
From the housing market to student loans to the rising price of gas, talking about the economy is always good for a collective moan, which means group bonding. The fact that I just paid $47 to fill up the tank on my 13-gallon Ford compact makes me want to cry, and there’s all sorts of speculation about when the housing market is going to “truly” hit bottom, whether this is “actually” a recession, and what the best investments are in times like these. Of course, you have to do a little research to have an opinion beyond “this sucks,” so I recommend news sites like CNN’s Money Page, or MSN Money.
There are magazines and books on these topics–I liked Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad. Or for a more lighthearted approach, you can ask people what the first thing they’d do would be if they won the powerball. My own personal choice is hiring a personal chef. Hooray!
As opposed to personal stories, these topics are pretty universally popular and allow other people to participate. Note that almost all of these require advance planning. Honey’s Insight of the Day:
You have to be willing to put some effort in before the fact in order for conversation to come across as effortless.
Good luck! Got any tips or tricks? Do share…