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Third year French and German student, Claire Hargreaves, shares her experience with the inevitable worries of meeting new people and small-talk. 

I am a self-confessed lover of small talk. Anyone who knows me will know that I am in my element when networking with new people, introducing myself to anyone who will talk to me and, most importantly, making a hell of a lot of small talk with total strangers. And whilst this can be fun and interesting, it can also become quite wearying after a while: at the end of Freshers’ week, I was exhausted, and not only because of all the nights out!

For Bristol’s newest recruits, with the first few weeks of university life comes a lot of new people, making small talk as relevant and unavoidable as ever.

So, although small talk is inevitable with most people you first meet – it is rare that you will immediately hit it off with someone you have only just met – there are ways to make it more bearable. For Bristol’s newest recruits, with the first few weeks of university life comes a lot of new people, making small talk as relevant and unavoidable as ever. I do not claim to be the world’s best conversationalist – far from it, in fact – but I have found that showing an interest in your fellow converser and making a genuine effort can go a long way in the early stages of meeting someone.

Speaking from experience, it can be easy to launch the Spanish Inquisition upon first meeting someone. This questionnaire-style of small talk is, naturally, a quick way for the interrogator to gather all the important facts (i.e. provenance, degree subject, halls, gap year status) about their interrogatee. However, it can alienate and bore both you and your converser, and I would recommend speaking a little about yourself as well as asking questions. Try and make your conversation as natural and spontaneous as possible, as if it had just occurred to you to ask what subject they study or what halls they are in; for all they know, you haven’t been cooking up these questions for days in advance.

The golden rule is therefore to ask questions and take a genuine interest in the person you are talking to.

What I have learnt from two years of university, during which time meeting new people regularly is almost inevitable, is that most people love to be asked questions. It gives them an opportunity to talk about themselves which is, for many among us, a favourite topic of conversation. Therefore, flattering your converser by taking an interest in them can be highly effective in earning you brownie points. If all things go according to plan, they will, in turn, ask you about yourself. The golden rule is therefore to ask questions and take a genuine interest in the person you are talking to.

What I have learnt from two years of university, during which time meeting new people regularly is almost inevitable, is that most people love to be asked questions.

Naturally, it helps to have a drink in hand when making small talk and I could not even begin to guess how many people I introduced myself to in the first few weeks of university when under the influence. This is not such a bad thing; alcohol breaks down certain social barriers and facilitates smoother, less self-conscious social interaction. Just try not to make it too regular an occurrence as the weeks go by; Dutch courage is incredibly useful to begin with, but should not be relied upon in the long-term.

Avoid grabbing by-standers and forcing them to talk to you, though.

Involving other people nearby in a small talk conversation also helps to make meeting new people easier. Sharing a conversation between more than two people eases the pressure, whilst allowing you to find out about more than one other person at the same time. Avoid grabbing by-standers and forcing them to talk to you, though.

Although small talk can come at the expense of more meaningful conversation, it is often the only place to start in order to get to know a potential future friend. Better conversation can, and will, ensue later.

And, finally, whatever you do, don’t ask your converser which school they went to.


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