OK, then. How can you make small talk bigger? Why, by changing
the subject to something with "juice." Typically, that's something
internal about the talker, something that really matters.
Ask a question about some important life experience
Here are a dozen examples:
1. Who is the most interesting person you ever met?
2. Where in the world would you most like to be right now?
3. What has been the great life-changing experience you've ever had?
4. When was the most spontaneous experience you ever had?
5. So far, what has been the biggest accomplishment of your life?
6. What are you are most proud of in your life?
7. What person has most affected the career choices you have made?
8. From which person have you learned most in your life?
9. What feature or quality do you miss about living in another locale?
10. What specific experience do you most desire that you haven't yet had?
11. What is the best quality you inherited from either parent?
12. What one thing do you most need to change in your life?
Or you can
Identify a wish or dream you want to experience in your lifetime
Here are twelve things I'd like to do. (What are your wishes?)
1. Fly-fish the Yellowstone River
2. Canoe the lakes of the Adirondacks
3. Find my great love late in life.
4. Spend a summer in a villa in Tuscany
5. Travel to Bali to hear gamelan music
6. Open a small crepes and churros shop in Guatemala
7. Spend a few months in Buenos Aires
8. Travel the U.S. and Canada doing book-signings
9. Create conversation skills clubs world-wide
10. Learn Portuguese
11. Spend a month in an intensive meditation retreat
12. Experience self-realization
You need only one compelling wish each to engage in this
more personal topic. However, if you'd like more wishes to
think about, you could consult Barbara Ann Kipfer's paperback
book, The Wish List. It contains a few thousand wishes.
Making the transition
"Whoa!," you say. "I can't just bring up a topic like this out of
"Right," I say. "You'll need to make a transition.
from the small to the big."
Here are some ways to do this:
Make sure you are in rapport
Usually we can feel the good connection if we have it, even with
a relative stranger. When this condition exists, we can proceed to ask a
different question. If the contact feels superficial, changing topics is
a bit more risky.
Tactfully change the subject by asking permission
"George, I've been musing a lot about some of my unfulfilled dreams,
and I'd like to share one of them with you, if that's OK. And I'd like
to hear about any of yours."
Offer to go first
This gives your partner some breathing room to
think of what they'd like to share as you take the small risk to be more
"Amy, I've thought of a lot of dreams I hope to experience this
lifetime. For example, I hope to travel to the village of my ancestors in
Slovenia and track down any living cousins. Do you also have dreams
of what you'd like to realize?"
The underlying premise here is that everyone has a story to tell if
you show genuine interest and make it safe for them to tell it.
people tell their own stories (instead of merely sharing opinions they've
picked up from others), the conversation contains deeper feelings. It
has heart as well as head.
Often, the stories are really touching. Sometimes,
by telling their story, the speaker undergoes some powerful changes.
You can notice that the questions and wishes in the samples above are
personal, but they're not private. No prying here. No sharing of hidden
secrets. Nothing sexual. Nothing embarrassing. None of those dumb
questions from party games like "What is the most stupid thing you ever
When you re-frame a small talk conversation to allow for bigger talk,
more meaning comes through.
Try it. I think you'll like it.