Yesterday I had the honor of visiting Walter Reed Army hospital with the Mariners and other members of the media. I’m an expert talker and can talk to a brick wall, but truth be told I was nervous about visiting the soldiers. I wanted to tell them thanks, and try to bring a smile to their day, but I didn’t know what to talk about. I didn’t know how to deal with men and women recovering from life-threatening injuries. What if I couldn’t talk, and it became awkward silence every time I entered a room to talk to a patient? As it turns out, my fears were unfounded. The soldiers were amazing and inspirational and willing to talk about anything and everything – all I had to do was keep asking questions. I didn’t have to know anything about them to start a conversation and chat for 5 minutes at a time.
How many times have you felt the same way? Nervous, anxious, intimidated about meeting someone new and stressed out about what you’re going to talk about? If that’s the case, focus on asking questions. So often we let conversations die because the follow up question goes unasked. As journalists we’re taught to get the answers to: Who? What? When? Where? and Why? If you keep those questions in mind, you’ll find that conversations are much easier. Here’s an example of a conversation I had with a solider yesterday?
“Hi, I’m Jen. What’s your name?”
“Where are you from?”
“Georgia. Just outside of Atlanta.”
“I work with the Mariners. Do you follow sports?”
“Yes, but I like boxing best.”
“Don’t know, I’m old school and I like playing the boxing video games. “
“Is there a big bout coming up? I thought maybe I heard something about one last week?”
“Yeah, but I don’t remember who’s fighting. It can take a while to get everything set.”
Nice and easy. Just keep the questions coming and take an interest in the person you’re talking to.