Our group of adult self-advocates are learning that small talk is where real opportunities begin.
These adult self-advocates meet once a month to hone their communication skills. It was an idea I got from a program out of Maryland. Our mantra is “I can,” and you can read about our first session here.
Our end goal is for these nine self-advocates to act as our 15th Annual Buddy Walk Ambassadors. They’ll educate attendees about Down syndrome and the programs our local Down syndrome group provides. They will also escort VIP guests like Ohio Representative Niraj Antani. Since we know where we’re going and what we’re doing (advocating at the Buddy Walk), now we’re learning how small talk will get us there.
Small talk is like a free, unknown gift. There’s no initial cost or risk, but the outcomes are endless.
Small talk can lead to just a pleasant exchange with a stranger or an amazing job offer. You’ll never know what you’ll get unless you try.
But conversational skills require you to think on your toes. This can be hard for anyone, and it was an obvious challenge for some of our self-advocates.
35-year-old Joe had a 14-year start on the rest of us!
He’s a loyal employee of Kroger grocery store for the last 14 years, and is now a natural at making small talk. I watch him do this every time I visit Kroger, and he is a great coach for our other self-advocates.
Our amazing Theater Educator, Stephanie Radford (heavy on the “RAD”), added another tool to our communication toolbox with a conversational acronym: FORD.
“If you get to the Buddy Walk and can’t think of anything to say to Congressman Antani, remember FORD,” Stephanie urges.
Small talk usually revolves around FORD, which stands for (Family, Occupation, Recreation, and Dreams). These are always safe topics to bring up to a complete stranger.
By the end of our session we created a web of small talk with questions like:
“What do you like to do with your family?”
“Do you work?”
“What’s your favorite hobby?”
“If you won the lottery what would you do with the money?”
It seems so simple, and studies show that small talk actually makes us smarter. It forces you to take someone else’s perspective and boosts our ability to problem solve.
Another great point Stephanie makes, is people love to talk about themselves.
How better to engage Buddy Walk attendees and get them to listen to our advocacy message than to ask them about themselves first.
I love how each of these self-advocates are so open to learning new techniques that will help them become better communicators. It takes a lot of courage to step out of your comfort zone. That’s why we love the informal workshop approach, because they have a safe space to practice skills like small talk.
15th Annual Buddy Walk: HERE WE COME!