I’ll be honest, it didn’t take very long before I realised that most of my conversations in Freshers’ Week were following a similar trajectory. A few predictable questions would be automatically exchanged, followed by an awkward pause in which both parties desperately tried to think up something interesting to say.
Because once you’ve exhausted the obvious topics (course, name, college, the untimely cancellation of Firefly) the reality of the situation becomes apparent: there’s nothing to talk about. And this isn’t someone you’ve known for years, it’s a person you met seconds ago – if you have nothing to say to them now, how are the following years of your degree going to pan out?
Some people have an uncanny knack for small talk and never seem to be at a loss for what to say, but given that you are reading an article about how to make conversation, you are probably not one of these people. Which is a good thing, as I’m not either, and I reckon that the ability to have a fulfilling conversation sober with a person you’ve only just met probably requires some kind of Faustian deal with the devil.
Anyway, assuming that neither yourself nor your present interlocutor is able to whip up a conversation about Chinese politics or what their favourite item of cutlery is (the spork, in case you’re wondering) you’ll both have to actually engage with the other person’s interests, or make a presentable effort at any rate.
As even the pretence that this is a worthwhile conversation fades, one of you will venture forth with whatever random thought comes to mind: “Do you like cats/bacon/Florence and the Machine, cause I love cats/bacon/Florence and the Machine?” “No way, me too…” “Cool” “Yeah”. And before you know it, you’re back to where you started.
I’ll be blunt; the fastest, most effective and overall best way to overcome this problem is alcohol, a drink that allows you to listen riveted as Joe McBloggins explains how door hinges have changed over the last century.
If you’re determined not to resort to alcohol though, there are other options – the irritatingly zany question, for example:
“Which would you prefer to have, a horse-sized rabbit or a rabbit-sized horse?” Or: “If you were a type of chocolate, which would you be?”
So in summary, either prepare yourself to endure the awkwardness… or drink.