We’ve all been there. Trapped in a social setting while someone drones on and on about some random sports figure and their dubious statistical accomplishments, you try not to yawn, nap, or slip into a coma. Then the conversation drifts to contestants on reality television shows. Your eyes glaze over, you sip at your cocktail, and you wonder why anyone would memorize such useless minutiae. Suddenly, the endless blabber stops and someone turns to you for input. You don’t want to come off as a clueless dweeb in front of your friends, but what do you say?
Being faced with such a predicament without adequate preparation is what gives geeks an undeserved reputation for social backwardness. However, this doesn’t have to be your fate. Here are some conversational strategies to employ the next time you’re at a social gathering with ‘mixed’ company.
Redirect the conversation.
If you’re already known to have a gentle wit, feel free to simply change the subject with a wink and a generous smile. “While I’m sure Mr. Manning is an excellent ball-thrower, does anyone need their drink freshened?” Pick a neutral topic or task and simply move the talk in a direction in which everyone can participate. Try not to counter a gambit with an equally arcane topic. Redirection is a kindness to those gathered, including yourself. Countering a sports question with an opening about string theory will only push someone less learned out of the conversation. If that includes everyone assembled except you, you have just branded yourself a dork.
Master one complimentary topic and counter with similarities.
Should you be capable of stomaching a particular team sport, make it your specialty. For example, if you happen to like hockey and the gang is talking about football, you can relate the sports to one another. “He was fined how much for punching the quarterback? You know me, I prefer five minutes in the penalty box.” You’ll become known as ‘Hockey Guy’, and no one will be surprised that you don’t know much about other sports.
Being the “Movie Guy”
If you simply can’t stand sports, many geeks use their movie knowledge to similar effect. Should the conversation stray to basketball, you could bring up how Shaq should not be allowed to play himself in a biopic should the opportunity arise due to his frightening performance in Freddie Got Fingered. Endorse Will Smith to possibly portray Michael Jordan. You get the picture. Becoming ‘Movie Guy’ is better than being considered a dolt.
Counter a question with another question.
If you are truly at at a loss for words, a well-crafted question will push the conversation away from yourself while keeping your dignity intact. The trick to using this tactic is to ask something specific. Avoid asking something a casual fan should know. “Who is the record holder for that skill?” is better than “how many points is it worth?” You want to be engaging but not infantile with your question. If you need to stall for a moment, take a sip of your drink or a bite of food while you think of a good query.
Admit defeat and laugh it off.
This one can be tricky to pull off, but will win you major cool points if executed properly. When asked about what you thought of Snooki’s outfit on the last episode of Jersey Shore, smile and say “I didn’t see it. I was otherwise engaged.” Then wiggle your eyebrows and laugh it off. Tone of voice and confidence is key to a successful admission, but, done correctly, everyone will laugh and you will be the man.
No matter which of these conversational strategies you employ, the idea is to make some sort of contribution to the communication. For the most part, mastery of the subject is not required to make a quick interjection and then retreat once more to your reverie. Just remember to keep redirections general and questions specific and you’ll survive the gathering without being labeled a dweeb.