The Smoke Signal

Turning Small Talk into Big Talk

Deven Stokes, Community Editor

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Hey, how are you doing? Where do you go to school? What’s your job? What is your favorite color?

Small talk. The classic way to greet someone and learn the generic facts about them. When meeting someone new, it is in our human nature to ask the common introduction questions that are almost repetitive. What if we eliminated small talk as a whole and asked one big question at a time?

College student at Northwestern University Kalina Silverman decided to begin a project called “Big Talk” in order to socialize and learn more about the people around her. In her project, Silverman approaches strangers and asks them big life-changing questions instead of small talk questions.

The strangers she asked were people of all ethnicities and of all ages. Some were homeless while others were wealthy. Silverman made sure to include individuals of all types to get the full perspective for her experiment.

To start off, Silverman asked questions like, “What do you want to do before you die?” and “What would you do today if you were going to die tomorrow?”

The strangers were almost shocked by the sudden personal question she just asked them. But their responses showed a different side to humanity that isn’t always shown.

When asked, “What do you want to do before you die?” many individuals said things like “go scuba diving” or “travel the Appalachian trail.” While others were more emotional like “see my kids graduate” and “make every moment count.”

When asking one man “What would you do today if you were going to die tomorrow?”, he instantly burst into tears and said that his mother asked herself that same question the day before she died.

Silverman said, “If I hadn’t approached these people, I probably wouldn’t have met them. By using big talk instead of small talk, I was able to learn about what people really care about in life.”

By using big talk, Silverman was able to learn more about these people and gain a relationship with them. Maybe if people started to replace small talk with big talk, more relationships would be formed and more kindness would be a result.

My dream is for the whole concept is for it to become a social movement where people want to have big talk every day in life. I want it to inspire people to go up to strangers and start asking these kind of questions when they meet them. ”

— Kalina Silverman

Silverman’s project not only inspired people to start a “Big Talk” movement, but it also sparked some emotional responses. Watch the video below to see for yourself.



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Turning Small Talk into Big Talk