SustainIt Book Club: What to Talk About by Chris Colin and Rob Baedeker

SustainIt Book Club: What to Talk About by Chris Colin and Rob Baedeker

07 October 2014 by Charlie Stockford

Part of my Exec course at Kelloggs School of management involved networking and how to network professionally in the US so I thought it would be good to gen up a bit on social graces and ways to introduce yourself.  Rummaging through Amazon one evening I came across “What to talk about” by Chris Colin and Rob Baedeker and thought I’d give it a go and read it on the plane over to Chicago.

 The book opener was “embitterment to talking” so I immediately knew it wasn’t going to be serious!  The book on the whole is a funny, light hearted way to get to know people in a new social situation.  It is very American in style and humour but there are several  tips that I have remembered such as using the vs technique, a “sugar boost” when you run out of things to say.  Some of these are useful, I’ve used them already; Pie vs Cake, Snake vs Mongoose, that kind of thing and they are great at opening up a good dinner debate!   Colin and Baedeker cover the areas where you might need a conversation opener such as parties, work, travel, stuck in a lift with your boss’s boss etc but also give some tips on working out your “natural style”.

 Are you a pancake or a steamroller for instance?  Use your strengths to enliven conversations… Steamrollers love to talk so use that … it can get a dull conversation flying; be bold, be controversial as you have enough gumption to hold a lively conversation together.  Steamrollers insist on having the first and last words, and most of the middle ones!  Pancakes on the opposite side are shy and reserved.  Pancakes need to seriously practice developing “your conversational alter ego” whereas Steamrollers definitely need to practice listening… eat more to stop yourself talking so much.  The book suggests that Pancakes need to be a little more daring… tips on page 70 about wearing your red boots and dangling piñatas!

 At the back of the book is an encyclopaedia of conversation topics covering cats, dugongs and the Ottoman Empire giving you some facts and figures that you can throw into a conversation such as “cats are murderers.  Fact. Cats kill 1.4 to 1.7 BILLION birds every year”.  The encyclopaedia is then followed by the Conversation Piñata which is a serious of jump starts for conversations, these are particularly useful and I have used some of these as people think they know the answer but aren’t quite sure.  I used at a cocktail party with a whole of people I’d never met before, most of whom appeared to be scientists, highly intelligent but not particularly conversational!

 Overall I felt the book was light-hearted and you take from it what you will.  It is US biased but lots of takeaways to work with if you are either a Pancake or a Steamroller.

 At an event or party sometimes we all get stuck in conversations that are going nowhere and are quite frankly hard work.  What to Talk About addresses that by giving direct and indirect strategies for exit strategies from dud conversations.  Exits are useful and necessary.  “And with that we are done”.

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