You’re at a social event for work with people you barely know. Conversation is a bit strained and a low-level social anxiety is buzzing in your brain. Every time the small talk comes to a screeching halt, you wrack your head searching for something to say.
But “What the hell do people talk about, anyways?” Is the only thing that comes to mind.
We’ve all thought it at some time or another, especially around strangers or casual acquaintances. Conversation flows freely in your inner circle, with whom you have a wealth of shared experiences and reference points, and can lean on common hobbies and more direct conversation. On the other hand, talking with people you don’t know very well isn’t as easy. Some have the gift of gab, while others get stressed out. While an extended silence can pass unnoticed and quite comfortably with your buddy, it is painful in the presence of strangers.
The good news is you aren’t the only one who feels that way. Glance around when there’s a lull in small talk and you will find a lot of people on edge. They are looking for someone to take command and fill the silence, preferably with something that is interesting rather than inane. If you can step up to the plate and take over, then your charisma level will increase. People will regard you in a positive light and seek out your presence in future social interactions, because you are a guy who isn’t painful to be around, someone who can provide a ray of light in a dreary interaction.
Make sure you have a full stock of topic points you can confidently discuss in-depth by listening to podcasts. Reading will always be the best way to stay informed, but it is time consuming and can’t be done while sitting in traffic or at the gym. Podcasts can go wherever you go, from home to work and even the transportation in between. Entertain yourself and get a whole roster of new topics and insights to bring up in conversation.
Here are a few podcasts that will up your interesting level and put wind in your sail should you find yourself in the small-talk doldrums:
If a group of guys are trying to find common ground, one of the first subjects they settle on is sports. Even if you’re not the type to devour stats and marathon football every Sunday, it is a good idea to have at least a frame of reference when the subject is raised. Bill Simmon’s podcast appeals to both super fans and casual listeners, striking an excellent balance between in-depth sports journalism and pop culture entertainment. The BS Podcast doesn’t fall into a tiresome routine of breaking down every game that happened since the previous episode. Instead, it keeps you informed of the biggest and most important happenings, balanced with insider media insights and talk of politics and movies.
With over 500 episodes, SYSK delves into one overarching topic each episode and delivers an impressively researched yet light and entertaining talk on each subject. With guest appearances by the likes of Bill Gates, the guys talk about everything from renewable energy to makeup. Expect lots of jokes and a poppy but informative presentation.
Dan Carlin is what the History Channel could have been, an entertaining and accessible guide through the most intriguing events in world history. Carlin has covered everything from the Roman Empire to WWI, and while he has neither the authority of a trained historian nor the definitive account of stories, he does have the power to engross his audience in the topic at hand. The longer episodes are perfect for plane rides or extended house cleaning sessions.
Ever look at something and wonder why it was designed that way? That’s where 99% Invisible, a podcast by a team of architects who explain the background of things we don’t think about, the design elements that make our world work but often goes unnoticed. This podcast will make you view your whole world differently. Expert commentators weigh in on the subject of the week in tightly edited, easily digestible 20 minute episodes.
For those lacking refinement, there is BBC 4’s In Our Time. It is the perfect listen for the guy who has his heart set on an artist but is a bit dusty on his Frida Kahlo, or for the dude who wants a crash course on microbiology before his Tindr date with a med student. Host Melvyn Bragg and a roundtable of experts from prestigious universities discuss weighty intellectual matters in a very informative and occasionally entertaining way. If you aspire to be a Renaissance man, this is the podcast for you.