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Home » 7 Ways to Make a Conversation With Anyone by Malavika Varadan (Transcript)

7 Ways to Make a Conversation With Anyone by Malavika Varadan (Transcript)

Malavika Varadan at TEDxBITSPilaniDubai

RJ extraordinaire Malavika Varadan discusses 7 Ways to Make a Conversation with Anyone at TEDxBITSPilaniDubai.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: 7 Ways to Make a Conversation With Anyone by Malavika Varadan at TEDxBITSPilaniDubai


Hello everybody. I’m going to start with a question: how many of you know the person sitting next to you from before today? Interesting.

So do you remember the first conversation that you ever had with that person? You know, conversations are links. OK. Let’s imagine every conversation to be a tiny metalink and every time you talk to a stranger, a metalink is formed.

And every conversation that you have after that moment, the link gets stronger and stronger and every day each one of us meets so many strangers, the grocery guy, the cab guy. Maybe the receptionist at a new office you went to.

And with every conversation we build new links. Until finally at the end we’ve created a kind of massive worldwide web of conversations. World-wide web. It’s a catchy word, I think I have heard that somewhere. That’s it, right?

A conversation, it’s a fascinating thing, a conversation is an adventure. A conversation gives you a whole new perspective. A conversation opens a door. The conversations can make war. And conversations can make peace. And conversations define who we are as a human race.

And think about this: every single person in your life was once a stranger to you. And you knew nothing about them until you had that first conversation. So I’m here today to tell you to talk to strangers and to have a conversation. And I’m here to tell you how. Seven ways that you can make a conversation with almost anyone.

I’m a radio presenter and I love talking to people. I do. I love it. And I’m so glad that I do it for a living. Here is what my day is like, right. Every single morning I go into an empty room. And I put on a mike and I have a conversation with 1.6 million people that I can’t see. Yeah. You know, what the hardest part is, though. It’s timing. In a four-hour show I get 20 minutes. That’s all the talk there is. And in 20 minutes I have to convince you that I am your best friend.

How do I do that? How do I establish a connection? I have 20 minutes to inform you, to excite you, to engage with you, but most importantly, 20 out of the 20 times that I switch on that mike, I have to leave a smile on your face. Except I can’t see you. I know nothing about you and I have no way of gauging your reactions.

How do you do it? How do you talk to a stranger? So well, my nine years in radio have taught me these simple little tricks.

Strangers. They are everywhere and we’ve always been told don’t talk to strangers but I beg to differ. Every stranger comes with an opportunity — an opportunity to learn something new, an opportunity to have an experience you never had or hear a story that you’ve never heard before. And you had that moment, right? You’re in the room with someone you don’t know and you look across the room.

You see a stranger and you think I want to talk to this person and you can almost hear the first word but it just won’t come out, it kind of get stuck about here, it kind of goes up and down and you don’t know. You know what, here is my advice. Just say it. What’s the worst that can happen? They want to talk to you. Well they’re not talking to you now.

The first word floodgates — I truly believe that the first word acts as a floodgate. You know, once you said the first word, everything else just flows. So keep it simple – a hi, a hey, a hello, and do what every good bowler does. Just gather the enthusiasm, the positivity, the energy, put on a big smile and say hi. I know there is going to be that strange moment right now. Go on to someone sitting next to you, stick your hand out and say hello. Go on.

I love the awkward laughter. Why is she making us do this? The first word floodgates.

You know, here is the challenge we face every day, time — we have 90 seconds on radio and we have to make that conversation with a stranger memorable. So how do you do it? What’s the biggest challenge? Honestly if we get stuck in the rut of hi, hey, how are you? I’m fine. What’s going on? Nothing much. Same old. So tell me what’s new? There you go, 45 seconds down wasted. Right?

So here is my advice. Skip the small talk and ask her really personal question. And don’t be afraid, trust me. You will be surprised how much people are willing to share if you just ask. So ask any kind of personal question, maybe interesting name. How did your parents think of it? Is there a story behind it? Or how long have you lived in this city and do you remember the first day you landed here? You see, answers for those questions are always something unique, always something personal.

My favorite one to try is where do you come from and where does your family live? Unfailingly every single time I sit in a cab, I do this. I ask that question: where do you come from and where does your family live? Let me tell you a little story. I was coming home one night and I got into this taxi, opened the door, sat down, I say, “Where are you from? Where does your family live?”

And the 60-year Pakistani cab driver goes on to tell me all about his life in Peshawar. We talked about politics, we talked about music, family, wife, his farm and 20 minutes later he is convinced that I am the perfect bride for his 26-year year old college educated son from Peshawar. And as I am getting out of the taxi, he’s taking out a passport-sized photograph with a look of enthusiasm. I have to say it was a very difficult goodbye. But the moral of the story really is what starts with a hello can end with a marriage proposal and that is a warning.

Step three. Find the me toos. Have you ever met someone who starts a conversation like they’re starting a debate. I’m from Delhi. I hate Delhi. Yeah, nothing kills a conversation like a negative. When you meet someone for the first time, make an effort to find the one thing that you and that other person might have in common.

When you start at that point and then move outward from there, you will find that all of a sudden the conversation becomes a lot easier. And that’s because the both of you are suddenly on the same side of something. And that’s really a powerful feeling.

Now what could you possibly have in common with a stranger you ask? Could be anything, right? You’re both in the same place at the same time. Maybe you’re from the same country. Maybe you both like the winter or you’re longing for it to rain. I don’t know you find something.

When you find a me-too you automatically have a kind of buy-in from the other person. Pay a unique compliment. I read somewhere that people will forget what you do and they’ll forget what you say but they will never forget how you made them feel. So be generous and go out and give someone a nice full compliment.

So I have this belief about a compliment immunity meter and it comes from this experience I had when I met this gorgeous supermodel, right. And I look at her and I say, “Wow! You’re beautiful” and there is no reaction on her face. And I think to myself, how? That’s when I realized she is immune to the word beautiful. She’s probably heard it a 100,000 times today and if she is on social media, she’s had it a million times today.

There are some words that each of us have developed an immunity to, it could be nice. It could be awesome. It could be cool. Stay away from these. Try and construct a compliment that’s unique and genuine and you don’t have to lie. Really? When you look at someone and say, I love how when you smile. It’s like, your nose smiles, and then your eyes smile and your ears smile, even your forehead smiles and suddenly the whole person is just smiling. You see, I hope that’s a compliment you’re not going to forget for a while. Pay a unique and genuine compliment.

Ask for an opinion. All of us have opinions, trust me and we all want them to be heard and everybody wants validation. So go on and ask for an opinion and that’s when you open up a two-way street. That’s when the real communication begins and you will be surprised how much you can pick up about a person just by asking that opinion on something pretty generic.

Here is the mistake that some people make. They ask your opinion about something really difficult. It feels almost intimidating. So in a room full of very well informed people and someone was to come up to me and say, so what do you think about the way the oil prices have affected the real estate market in Dubai? I feel a bit cornered. I feel like I might fail and this is an examination and that’s the lesson.

Nobody needs to fail at a first-time conversation. Just ask something simple, keep it generic. How do you like your coffee? When was the last time you watched a movie? What did you think of it? And when somebody gives you their opinion, really listen and don’t listen to reply. Listen to listen. There’s a difference.

And that brings me to my next point: be present. I know you’ve been through this. I know I have. You’re pouring your heart out to someone and they’re like this. Yeah, go on, keep talking. I can multitask, what’s with [Wi-Fi]. You know when someone’s trying to communicate with you, the least you can do is really be in that conversation, just be wholeheartedly present. Just be there.

And all my favorite part: make eye contact. Trust me, eye contact is where all the magic happens. You can feel the conversation and trust me, when you’re looking at someone in the eye, nine out of 10 times they will not dare look away. Right?

Now if only I could look into the eyes of 1.6 million people, I would not have to worry about you guys tuning out during the ad breaks. That brings me to this: my favorite point, because I think it’s got a catchy name. Name place animal thing. You remember that game? Remember the little details about a person. Remember their name. It’s so important. It’s awful when you meet someone for the eighteenth time and you say you must be Paul, no, Peter, something with the P and it ends with – it’s terrible.

Remember someone’s name and say it back to them. You have no idea how important you’re making them feel. And that’s not the only detail. Remember all the other details as well — the places they like to go to, the places they’ve been to, the places they want to go to, their pet’s names, how their pet’s been feeling lately, the things they like. Remember their children’s names, that’s such a winner. And remember their wife’s renames, and their girlfriend’s names, just don’t mix up the last two, because that could be disastrous.

Remember these little things about people and repeat it back to them, ask, 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.

There we go. Seven amazing ways that you can make conversation with anyone. And seven reasons why you should use the break that’s going to come up to talk to a stranger if you don’t know.

I’m going to end with this — this analogy. A conversation is like reading a book. You can turn to any page you want. You can flip to your favorite chapter. You can read as long as you want and you can read what you want and every person, trust me, is a really good book. And it saddens me so much that entire human lives are being boiled down to 140 characters and catchy headlines because that’s not what we are. We are not bridge diversions. But we are entire human stories, we deserve more from each other.

So what are you going to do in this big world that we call the library? Are we going to walk around and look at the hard bound copies and read the titles? Or are you going to actually reach for a book, open a page and start reading a story. You decide.

Thank you.


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