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14th-Jun-2004 11:10 am
slanty, martha
So I went to a Kerry fundraiser yesterday. I made a large donation, and as a perk for big spenders, got to go to the pre-fundraiser, where we
got to hang around in a small group (around 25 people) with Barney Frank.
Barney Frank is my congressman, and from everything I've read that he's
written, seems like a really great guy, who not only fights the
good fight on a lot of issues in congress, but is a smart, witty, friendly,
person who it would be fun to get to know personally. So I was looking forward to this opportunity.

But when I actually got there, I was overcome by paralyzing "what
should I say?" shyness. So I didn't even try; I hung out in the
other room, and talked with my square-dancing friends instead.
Eventually the conversational groups shifted, and we got Congressman
Jim McGovern involved in our conversation, and he was cool to talk with.
But I'm angry at myself for not managing to take the opportunity
to strike up a conversation with Barney Frank.

I'm way less shy than I used to be, and am much more comfortable
than I used to be making conversation with strangers. But
if they're famous strangers that I admire, I'm as shy as
ever. I had the same inability to cross the room and start
conversations when I was recently in a social setting with Will Shortz,
and before that with John Conway. Anyone else have this problem?
Any suggestions on how to overcome it? It just feels weird and
almost presumptuous to make small talk and
"talk about the weather" with a famous person. And if I try to
talk about their work, I'll say something about how great they
are, they'll say "Thank you", and I'll again be at a loss for
words. I'm sure that once a conversation starts I'll be fine, but
I can never get myself to start one.
14th-Jun-2004 01:04 pm (UTC)
The idea I've come up with is to try to think of something interesting to say about whatever it is they do. Come up with a question related to their work or whatever that can potentially start an interesting conversation. Instead of saying "gosh, I like your work", say "I really appreciated the way you handled the foo; I thought your solution was productive and creative because ____. How did you think of doing it that way?" Even if you can't come up with a question you think you already know the answer to, try it- especially if you ask about motivations, their answer may surprise you. And you will hopefully have given them something to chain of of, so that they can help the conversation flow.

Of course, it helps not to go into meeting anyone with particularly high expectations. ;)
15th-Jun-2004 07:10 am (UTC)
I think cmeckhardt has the right idea; I used to be much better at this (when I was younger and blunter) than I am now. (Random Daily Anecdote: I remember grilling the president of CNN about why the network devoted so much coverage to the OJ Simpson murder case when I was in high school, for example.) I'm not sure why I'm less good at this now; that, or I meet fewer famous people. (Second Random Daily Anecdote: when I was clueing for Acronym during the Hunt this year, I kept meeting people whose names I recognized as puzzle constructors ... all I needed to talk about was our stupid puzzles, but what kept running through my mind was "I'm talking to ____ _____! And why am I giving him hints on our stupid puzzles?!?!"

Another idea, which is something of a copout and requires almost no thought on your part but can prompt some discussion: "What's the funniest/oddest/strangest/other adjective _______ that you remember?" (Choose adjectives and blanks as necessary.)
12th-Jul-2004 10:14 am (UTC)
I used to ask questions of people, much as was suggested above. My rational was that if you ask questions the person you want to start a conversation with will then have a topic to run with and conversation can ensue. I then had the opportunity to observe a Master of Conversation at work... he did not simply ask questions of the person he reacted to them and he rarely asked question relating to work (or whatever made that peron famous/interesting/conversation worthy). He would ask about something a little more personal, yet not intrusive. That would result in the person being more at ease and much more eager to talk since they are not talking about something other than what they have probably been babbling about all night. Example: (After noticing a broach shaped like a saxophone.) Sally, do you play the Sax? A 15 minute conversation ensued about high school bands and at the end the Master and Sally were practically best friends.

Chances are since you admire Congressman Frank, then you probably know a little more of him that what he does on the political stage, ask him about that. That'll warm him up enough so the conversation can get back to politics and it won't be such rigid responses to your political questions.
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