It appears some people are incapable of small-talk. Every time you meet them there’s an impending global crisis or an inescapably penetrating idea that you have to know about. They’re less concerned with today’s temperature than how last week’s barometric pressure broke historic trends. When they unexpectedly run into a foreign friend in an elevator, they break the awkward silence with, “I just read this great article about your country’s wild GDP growth, did you see it?”
Of course, there are also people who are incapable of big-talk. These guys tell dirty jokes at lunch when they’re 35 and somehow always know the 10-day forecast. They watch Fox News because they like using missing dogs, local heroes, and teen fashion trends as conversational fodder. They spend an entire Thanksgiving dinner talking about football and basketball and baseball players. They love barbershops.
Neither extreme is pretty. But I’ve noticed that it’s almost always better to err on the small side. In my experience, people prefer going through the motions with an incessant small-talker than slogging through deep conversations with an incessant big-talker. It’s a lot less work.
Which brings us to charm.
Charm is just making big-talk feel like small-talk. It’s sounding smart without lording your intelligence over someone. It’s slipping big ideas into a friendly chat and turning your incisive commentary into a cute quip. It’s leveraging the lowest common denominator without getting stuck there, and getting people to listen by making it easy to listen.
Thus the elements of small-talk - jokes, stories, examples, simple language, etc. - are the key components of charm. And the point is, charm works. It’s the secret sauce of good writers, speakers, and salesmen, the best way of explaining something meaningful without scaring the crap out of everyone.
So when in doubt, talk small.