Malavika Varadan, a radio presenter, claims it is easy to start a conversation with strangers in her TEDx Talks speech “7 Ways to Make a Conversation with Almost Anyone”. In general, I liked the way she presented, explained and engaged the audience. Nevertheless, I don’t think I will watch it again. Here is why. The intro is too long which might discourage the viewers from continuing to watch it. When she gets almost to the point, Ms. Varadan gives her background saying she’s been working as a radio presenter for nine years and every single show she talks with the broadcast listeners for 20 minutes. That is a good strategy to gain trust from the audience since this makes her seem to be experienced in making a conversation with strangers. The presenter encourages people to take a risk and talk to strangers, she assures there isn’t anything to be afraid of, there is nothing they are going to lose. “What’s the worst that can happen?”. Well, anything could happen! Everything might end up with kidnapping or even worse… So, I think she should be careful when claiming everything is going to be fine.
I would like to comment each tip given by Malavika Varadan.
- The first word flood gates
“Just start the conversation”. According to the presenter, starting the conversation might be a bit scary and difficult, but then everything will go smoothly. However, I am sure the hardest part of making a conversation is keeping that conversation going. Just imagine, you come up to someone and say “Hi!”, he/she: “Hi!”… The first step is taken so what? How is the conversation with someone who you don’t know anything about supposed to flow after the first word? It would be more helpful to advise on how the conversation could be continued.
- Skip the small talk
Instead of wasting time on How Are Yous and What’s Ups, Malavika Varadan suggests asking personal questions like “Where do your parents live?”. It would work with people whom you are familiar with but don’t talk too much or don’t know much about. However, in case of strangers things might go wrong. Personally, if someone came up and asked a personal question I would run away as fast as I could. Along with that, this tip may not work in some countries (for instance, in the UK) where asking personal questions is considered impolite.
- Find the me-toos
Ms. Varadan starts well when explaining her third point. I agree that common things bring people together and make the conversation interesting. But after listing out several examples of questions that could be used when trying to find those common topics to talk about, she says: “I don’t know, you’ll find something”. Intentionally or unintentionally the speaker makes everything look easy. However, I assume people who search for and watch such TEDx Talks are mostly those ones who are actually looking for more practical advice because they don’t find it as easy as it seems to the speaker. That’s why I would rather omit that statement or give more concrete advice.
- Pay a unique compliment
Here is the part I liked the most: “People will forget what you do, they’ll forget what you say, but they will never forget how you made them feel”. I feel she did well when supporting her claim with the story about the model with the immunity to the word “beautiful”. I saw her message clearly.
- Ask for an opinion and 6. Be present
She makes the eye contact with one of the audience members in order to prove that it helps to keep people present in the conversation. To my mind, it worked better than if she didn’t show it in practice. Next, Ms. Varadan imitates a person who pretends to listen when, actually, he does not. She acted it out perfectly; her tone, movements, everything represented that type of people accurately. Then, she adds: “I know you’ve been through this, I know I have”. It seems to me she is generalizing people and their relationships based on her own experience. There might be people who haven’t been through such situation. And she doesn’t take them into account.
7.Name, place, animal, thing
Lastly, Malavika Varadan advises to remember all the details about your partner and mention them in your conversation. “Be genuinely interested and automatically you kind of become an investor in their well-being; so they feel responsible to you to keep that conversation going”. These words make me feel like I’m being taught how to manipulate people. She could be more specific or cautious about the word choice.
The presenter sums everything up with an analogy. By comparing people to books she suggests to read the whole story instead of looking through the titles. That was a really proper closing. She gave the main point in that sentence, which was more convincing to me rather than the whole speech. In the end, she emphasizes she doesn’t enforce a choice and everything is up to the listeners. Frankly speaking, there were too many “trust mes” which make me think she tries to convince that she is totally right and everything will work for anyone.
Ms. Varadan held herself confidently, spoke clearly and used simple vocabulary, consequently, nothing caused any misunderstanding. However, sometimes, her laugh sounded artificial. I assume those times were when she tried to cover awkward silence after the jokes which nobody laughed at.
Overall, the speaker looks at the making conversation from her own perspective where everything is easy. She is a public and very attractive person. She is open and self-confident which is noticeable from the way she speaks. It might be easy for her. But she forgets about people who are shy or not confident enough to take those “simple” steps. What should they do? Moreover, she doesn’t take into account the second partner of the conversation. Conversation is a two-way process, isn’t it? What if that person is shy or simply doesn’t want to talk to us? Although she tried to depict possible life situations in order to demonstrate her tips in practice, she didn’t consider all the possible situations some of which might lead to embarrassing results that will probably discourage already shy people from speaking to strangers even more.
Moreover, there was nothing new in her tips. These are rather basic rules. The video is worth watching in order to remind yourself those basics; however, it would be more valuable if she came up with really working tips about avoiding those awkward moments when talking to strangers.