The 2-Word Trick That Makes Small Talk Interesting
Podcast hosts like Guy Raz and Tim Ferriss use it often
I was at a house party, on my own, sticking close to the table that held the drinks and the charcuterie display. Because I hardly knew anyone, I was tempted to hunker down on the couch with a cold glass and a full plate and go through emails on my phone.
It felt safe, but also a little boring. So instead, I decided to try an experiment: I wanted to see if I could have at least one interesting conversation with a complete stranger.
Like pretty much everyone else, I think of small talk as a drag. After you exhaust the generic questions — What’s your name? What do you do? Where are you from? — the conversation usually grinds to a halt. It’s like a clunky ballroom dance, with both people struggling to find the same rhythm: As you speak, you wonder if the other person gets your humor, appreciates your opinions, or is mentally engaged at all. Sometimes you get lucky and strike upon a shared passion to dive into, but more often, you discover you have little in common and get stuck. That’s usually my cue to get another drink.
At the same time, we’ve all experienced an interesting conversation with someone we’ve just met — an exchange in which words flow back and forth effortlessly, where both people are fully present and happy to be there. There are thoughtful questions, real laughter, and maybe even hints of healthy disagreement. You lose yourself in the moment, and when it’s finally time to depart, you feel energized, more alive.
Alone at the party, that’s what I craved. And I had an idea of how to get it.
While listening to my favorite podcasts, I’ve noticed a two-word phrase that hosts often use with their guests to cut past the surface-level chitchat and into the heart of a story: “I’m curious.”
Usually, the phrase is carefully placed before a good, sometimes tough question. On NPR’s How I Built This, which dives into the stories behind the world’s best-known companies, host Guy Raz uses it often.
He used it when he talked to Lyft’s John Zimmer: “Uber is a good product. Lyft is a good product. They…