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Monday, April 14, 2014

How To Start Conversations With Total Strangers

Rob Baedeker and Chris Colin are the authors of "What to Talk About: On a Plane, at a Cocktail Party, in a Tiny Elevator with Your Boss's Boss." (Ilana Diamond)

Rob Baedeker and Chris Colin are the authors of “What to Talk About: On a Plane, at a Cocktail Party, in a Tiny Elevator with Your Boss’s Boss.” (Ilana Diamond)

Have you ever gone up to an intriguing looking person at a party, tried to start a conversation and froze? Or perhaps you just babbled mundanely about the weather? Well, authors Chris Colin and Rob Baedeker can help.

Along with illustrator Tony Millionaire, they’ve published “What to Talk About: On a Plane, at a Cocktail Party, in a Tiny Elevator with Your Boss’s Boss” (excerpt below).

The book is filled with suggestions to aid in the art of making conversation, as the title suggests, in all sorts of situations. As the authors tell Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson, “we believe that if you can quell that inner panic enough to actually tap into your curiosity, there’s always a million things to talk about in any situation.”

Five Tips From Chris Colin And Rob Baedeker

  1. Ask for stories, not answers
    • Instead of “What do you do?” ask “What’s the best thing you get to do all day, and the worst?”
  2. Flat-out ignore dead-end questions
    • Instead of answering “How’s it going?” ask “Who do you think is the luckiest person at this party right now?”
  3. Put people at ease by admitting your bottomless ignorance
    • “I have no idea how wind works, if I’m honest. Don’t know much about the Korean War or diesel power, either. Can we put our heads together and figure some stuff out?”
  4. Push old relationships out of their conversational ruts
    • “Most awkward moment of your day so far? How about your year?”
    • “Describe yourself in ten words.”
    • “If you could hear a master recording of everything anyone ever said about you, would you?”
    • “If a wizard offered you the power to walk through walls, but you’d vomit a tenth of the time, would you go for it?
    • “Describe yourself in one word.”
  5. Like every marriage, all conversations must end
    • Talk boldly, exit boldly: “It’s been so nice chatting with you.” Big smile, walk away, no tears.

Book Excerpt: ‘What to Talk About’


  • Chris Colin, co-author of “What to Talk About.” He’s also author of author of “What Really Happened to the Class of ’93” and “Blindsight.” He tweets @chriscolin3000.
  • Rob Baedeker, co-author of “What to Talk About” and co-founder of the San Francisco comedy group Kasper Hauser. He tweets @robbaedeker.

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Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

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