Talking to people you don’t know is the worst. You know the feeling — you’re stuck in a room with someone, and you have nothing to say. Awkward silence ensues. 

Talking to people you don’t know is the worst. You know the feeling — you’re stuck in a room with someone, and you have nothing to say. Awkward silence ensues. The Thresher understands this angst, and we are here with an answer: your personal guide to finding fascinating, relevant conversation starters that will allow you to make small talk with ease. If you read, do or listen to these suggestions once a week, you will never flounder in quiet torture again and will instead impress your higher-ups, have your friends in tears from laughing and make every family dinner a bit more bearable.

Secret 1 - NPR Podcasts

 For a long time, I was a self-admitted detester of podcasts. However, a quick listen to an NPR report in the car converted me. NPR podcasts are fantastic because they’re free, there are five million of them about every topic imaginable and you can listen to them whenever, wherever. Simply open the Podcast app on your phone, go to Top Charts and you’re sure to find a couple to pick through. The best stations are “This American Life”, “Radiolab” and “TED Radio Hour” — each podcast from these three programs is about an hour long and can easily be enjoyed on a car ride or walking to classes. The topics are simply fantastic; through listening regularly, I have learned how hookworms can cure multiple sclerosis, how the human brain utilizes language to create thoughts and how some idiot killed the oldest living organism. It’s basically the best small-talk creating engine in the universe.

Secret 2 - Open Culture

Open Culture is hands down the best culture blog out there. It essentially collects the most informative cultural media from the corners of the interwebs and brings it together in one place. You can either scroll straight down the page or browse the various categories on the page’s sidebar. While Open Culture doesn’t always bring up content relative to current events, its selections are entertaining, thought-provoking and highly informative. For example, some recent posts included a video of two chatbots having a philosophical conversation with one another, a link to online Hogwarts courses and a heart-melting audio clip of Patti Smith reading her poetry. A quick read-through will definitely give you something cultural to say at your next classy

gathering. 

Secret 3 - Politico.com

Admittedly Politico can be pretty overwhelming if you’re not that into politics. However, it’s the single best source of pure political news out there on the Internet. The first thing I love about it is how neutral it is — it’s been accused both of having a slight conservative and a slight liberal tilt, which means it’s probably perfectly moderate. The other thing I like is it is extremely well organized; it collects articles into important topic subgroups. For instance, if you want to find info strictly on Obamacare, there’s a tab for that — same with immigration, elections, etc. In short, Politico is where to go if you want to quickly look up both sides of an issue to sound savvy for a friendly

political debate.

Secret 4 - Zite (app)

Zite is Buzzfeed with slightly more sophisticated content. A free app that can be downloaded on most smartphones and tablets, Zite allows you to select topics that interest you and will present you with corresponding current articles pulled from around the web. As you look through the articles, you can like or dislike what you see to better refine the selection process. My personal Zite keeps me updated on current events, new scientific studies and the latest fiction. Yours could give you the same, more, less or completely different info. Download it — at the very least, you can feel like you’re procrastinating smarter.

Secret 5 - The New Yorker magazine or www.newyorker.com

I’m in a long-term, passionate relationship with the New Yorker. You can’t finish it without coming away feeling like a more cultured person. Not only is the writing so good and the stories so fascinating that you will want to read it cover-to-cover, its inherent diversity of material forces you to encounter topics that you otherwise might avoid. An average issue includes relevant television, art, cinema and theatre critical reviews, short stories and poems by famous authors, coverage of current events, a features piece and often some sort of satirical humor section. The New Yorker is the romantic partner every culture nerd desires — it meets all your needs while making you a better version of yourself. At the very least, scroll through the website and click through some top articles to make yourself just a bit more fascinating.