Film: BFI London Film Festival Guide


A little more conversation, a little more action, please

An interview with Georgie Nightingall, founder of Trigger Conversations

Londoners frequently complain how hard it is to meet people and make new friends in the city. We crave to connect and have meaningful conversations, yet we usually get stuck in small talk or avoid strangers altogether. Georgie Nightingall founded Trigger Conversations in 2016, to create an evening where the conversation is not something you hope may happen as a bi-product of a night out, but is in fact the main event. At Trigger, you will not be left alone in a corner, pretending to text someone. You will meet new people. You will find out unexpected things about them. And possibly about yourself!

London Calling: What “triggered” you to start this business idea? Pardon the pun…
Georgie Nightingall: I was very bored with my conversations in life, generally. I found that at work people would ask “How was your weekend?” or “Where are you going next for your holiday?” or talk about work. Then in the evening my friends would ask “How is work?”, and whenever I met new people, it was “What do you do?” Every conversation seemed to be about work and people didn’t ask because they were actually curious or interested, they asked because they were expected to. It felt very scripted, I would repeat the same thing, they would say “hm, interesting” even though they weren’t, and it was difficult to get into a conversation where I felt like I was genuinely learning, discovering, having fun, exploring and getting to know somebody beyond their labels. I wanted to find a way to make that happen rather than leaving it to chance.

LC: Why do you think we find it so hard to move past small talk?
GN: I think there’s a few reasons: small talk is the social norm and exists to help us have some element of dialogue, but also to do it in a safe and polite manner, not to be intrusive. It’s safe topics and people don’t really know what they are allowed to ask outside of that accepted social norm. They’re not quite sure how to jump from small talk to something more meaningful and interesting without breaking those social boundaries. In my experience, it’s very possible to get from small talk to a more rich conversation, but it requires some element of creativity.
LC: Is this particularly a London thing? Londoners seem to be scared to even make eye contact…
GN: It could be seen as weird, but that is probably a preconception. I was in a small village near Reading last week and it is common practice every time you walk past somebody to say hello. It London it would be considered absolutely strange to do that! There is definitely something about big cities, where it is not the accepted norm to start talking to people, so you then feel that you can’t talk to strangers. I found though that it’s an edge, which we perceive more than it actually is real. Sometimes people don’t want to engage with you and that’s fine, but a lot of the time people are willing, provided that you make them feel safe. A smile with eye contact actually goes a long way. So that fear, although it might feel real, might be an illusion in some respect.

LC: What happens at a Trigger event? What is the set up?
GN: You will be greeted at the door by a host for the evening. The host is very warm and chatty and should release people’s fears as soon as they arrive.
You are given an icebreaker card and you head into the room to have a drink and informally mingle and chat with everybody there. The icebreaker cards are very useful to get people going, to just walk up to somebody and start talking. We create an environment where the new norm is that you will talk to strangers. We invite people to be adventurous in their conversations, to banish small talk, be curious and open-minded, ask questions and listen.

You are partnered up with strangers and you follow what is a metaphorical dinner menu. Each course reflects the depth of conversation. You get random selected cards with questions on them, each course you will have a new partner. They are timed slots, a canapé card will be 5 minutes, when you get to the main course the conversation is longer, and you can choose at that point what kind of conversation you want – meat is deep and thoughtful, fish is controversial and vegetarian is nourishing. You go through the whole menu – canapés, starters, main, dessert and cheese – with a break in the middle, you finish with coffee and then generally people like to stay around for a bit and mingle, finish the conversations they had and start new ones.

LC: What have you learned about people?
GN: One thing I like is, Trigger is an invitation to be real, to be your whole self, and that includes every bit of you, even your weird bits! I learned that when you invite people to say what they like, they do say what they like. The stuff that has come up is incredibly different and exciting, sometimes completely unexpected. It’s so beautiful that the human spirit is so vibrant, alive and unique but also, when people do speak their truth, I realised how similar they are to me. I find that coming to these events is a great opportunity almost to be united and to understand that we have a lot of common ground, although we may have different perspectives and ideas, everyone is very human. It’s incredibly liberating to be in a space where you can do that. I learned that people are weird and wonderful!
The next Trigger Conversation event is on 20 July at The Dead Dolls House, Islington. Tickets are £18.92.