No Small Talk

What’s worse than going to an event where you don’t know anyone? Having to make small talk. Not just once but over and over again. If you are anything like me or most people, you despise answering the same questions all night. It can limit someone from trying something new like attending a random networking event or Shabbat dinner.  

I recently moved back to Denver from San Francisco. In SF, I was invited to a “No Small Talk” party, which originated from this Wired article. There are three rules:

  1. You must show up within an hour of the partying starting, since a party doesn’t really start until all the guests arrive.
  2. No cell phones; it’s important to be present (this one is HARD)
  3. No small talk- no hometown, job or TV shows– but instead you have to ask deeper more engaging questions. Think open ended questions or conversation starters like “What could solve homelessness? If money where not a factor, what would you be doing in life?”

Moving back to Denver and beginning to build my community, I figured an easy way to bring people together would be to host a “No Small Talk Shabbat Dinner” through OneTable. The events were always open because it’s more fun to try this out with strangers. It seems people are more willing to open up.  The first dinner was only singles because it seemed like people would be more open and honest if they didn’t have a partner, sibling or other person to limit what they might otherwise share. Last week was the third one I hosted. It was open to everyone: singles, couples, friends and strangers. Even having one of my closest friends since childhood with whom we talk about everything, I still learned something new about her from these conversations. There were about 20-30 people, and many didn’t know each other or anyone there. We opened with the question for the group of “What are you celebrating this week?” It was an opportunity for people to share their excitements, accomplishments etc. and a nice ice breaker for people to ask them follow-up questions later. What was incredible is about ten people (most of whom had never met before) stayed until 1am and shared some of their deepest thoughts, fears and opinions with mostly total strangers. They all exchanged numbers and made plans to hang out later that week. It was incredible to see how just going a little deeper than typical surface level questions can form strong relationships and help you really get to know someone.  It makes for such rich conversation, vulnerability, and friendship.

If you are interested in hosting your own no small talk dinner, here are some tips to get started:

  1. List the three rules above and make sure everyone attending understands what they are getting themselves into. (The phone is a tough one and never has been 100% successful)
  2. For your first party, smaller groups seem to work better. It makes it more manageable and allows one to two people to ask questions to the whole table to make it less awkward.
  3. Print out questions on the table to facilitate conversation (here are a few sites from which you can print questions).
  4. As the host, make sure the no small talk rule starts the minute someone walks in your house—instead of asking “how are you doing” find a more creative ice breaker. My favorite is, “What was the best part of your week?”
  5. Don’t sweat it if there is some small talk and not all the rules are always followed. It is hard to get out of our usual routines and how we have been programmed.
  6. Make sure there are a few key people in attendance at different tables (if there is more than one table) who have questions prepped or use questions at the table to facilitate the discussion and bring everyone in.

Your guests will appreciate not having to make awkward, uncomfortable and often shallow small talk. You will be amazed how much you learn about other people and how much you are willing to open up when asked the right question.

Inspired? Click here to create a dinner or apply to become a host.

Alyse just moved back to Denver to start a green roof consulting firm after Denver passed the strictest green roof mandate in the country. She is excited to be back with her large extended family, friends and outdoors. She enjoys hosting and attending Shabbat dinners because it's a great way to unwind from the week and make new friends.

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