Better Small Talk Tips from Minister Faust

“So, what do you do?” or the variation, “So, what do you do for a living?” are probably the most common opening questions when people meet.  While many people give boring answers to these questions and others spew out an elevator pitch, there are a few people who realize that the questions themselves are problematic.

They can be an attempt to discover who the top dog is.

Why not ask a question that engages people in sharing what they know and what they care about in a way that connects them with you?  Ask them a question that gets them to share a personal story.  Personal stories can be an equalizer. That’s what radio host, Malcolm “Minister Faust” Azania, shares in this Tedx talk, “How to Engage in Better Small Talk.”

Azania uses 7 question zones to encourage story sharing:

 1. Food. “Tell me the story of your most powerful associations with bread . . . ” Azania related a story of asking that question of a friend who told him about when his dog ate a loaf and an half of bread dough.

 2. Favorite teacher. It’s amazing how much people want to answer this question.  Who are the heroes without their teachers . . . the ones who helped them transform?

3. Forest. Ask about their connection with nature.

4. Film & culture. People will tell you remarkable things about how their favorite book or movie affected them.  Instead of asking,  “Have you read book X?” ask “Tell me about a book that changed you.” Or, “Tell me about your favorite book dealing with X . . .  or about Y . . . or by Z.”  Other questions: “Tell me about a movie that makes you cry.” And,  “Who would you want to play you in a movie?”

5.  Forlorn or fond. “Tell me about the songs that profoundly remind you of your own youth and why.”

6. Fear. Ask them about their fear—a fear they’ve overcome.  “Tell me if and when you ever personally overcame racial tension.”

7. For the Win. “Tell me the story of one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for you.”  Or, “Tell me about a time when you discovered that you were stronger than you thought you were.”

These types of questions aren’t intended to arrive at specific point, but where they take you can be much more interesting than the response to “what do you do for a living?”

Use small talk to get to the big talk by encouraging people to tell stories.


About Diane Windingland
I speak for organizations that want their people to have better, more profitable conversations.

One Response to Better Small Talk Tips from Minister Faust

  1. joe sharp says:


    These are great ways to start a meaningful discussion, or a Table Topic.

    They remind me of a thoughtful, deep talk called “What is your story?”. If you wish I could try to find it. I should have a talk on the same topic (inspired by it) in my list of candidates


    Sent from my iPad

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