5 easy conversation starters

Have you ever been doing first-person interpretation and suddenly found yourself unsure of how to approach the public. Admittedly approaching total strangers, whether in first or third person, is nerve wrecking and for those of us with social anxiety can feel like an insurmountable job. But it is also vital to effective interpretation. What can we do to engage the public, without dropping out of first-person, especially if the public is reluctant to approach us first?

What Time Is It?

This is my all time favorite conversation starter with the public and even with other reenactors. Mostly because I always need to know the time, but for the majority of personas & eras that I participate in, I don’t have a watch. That makes asking the time both a practical & easy way to start a conversation. Even when I am doing WW2 and do wear a watch, it’s easy to pretend that my watch has stopped (which it really does sometimes too) and I need to confirm the hour. Thankfully, the public always has access to the clock on their cell phone & is happy to help! It might be simple, but sometimes the simple conversation starters are the best for a reason.

Does It Look Like Rain To You?

Maybe this is a midwestern thing, but we are obsessed with the weather. Does it look like it’s going to rain? Gosh it was so cold last night! This is another extremely simple way to start a conversation with the public because it’s something we are all experiencing together. If it rains, we will get wet, but so will they. If we’re cold, they are cold. There is also a good chance that the public consulted a weather report before deciding to venture out to our camps that day, so asking them what they think of the weather is obvious too. It also works well because it’s a great introduction to questions about how we handle the weather historically & you know I love a good compare & contrast conversation with the public.

Have You Seen My Lemons?

I will admit this is a bit of a funny way to start a conversation but it is always good for a laugh. The idea originally stems from an ~1800 newspaper advertisement that I found which stated “Lost, last Saturday, one bag of lemons”. I find this advertisement amusing for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I like to keep a lemon or two around in camp for making throat comfort tea when I am demonstrating. As it turns out, that “lost” bag of lemons makes a great conversation starter too. I can start a conversation with anyone by just asking if they have seen the bag, or if anyone they have met has a suspiciously large amount of lemons. It doesn’t have to be lemons that we are missing either. As long as we make sure the item is insignificant enough that no one thinks we’ve really lost something with (modern) value.

Could You Read This For Me?

If there are two things that modern people take for granted, it’s literacy and good vision. But the further we go back in history, the harder both of those things become. Especially for those of us portraying the impoverished masses where access to the education needed for reading and the expense of reading glasses quickly becomes prohibitive. Asking the public (especially younger children) to read us a letter, the latest news or even a vendors sign, is a simple interaction but opens up the door to more of that compare & contrast which I love so much. If we combine this conversation starter with the Free Authenticity Upgrade of actually going without our modern sight aids, it might not even be a stretch to need someone’s help reading!

Did You Hear / See / Smell That?

A reenactment is a sensory stimulating environment but we often forget to engage the public in using senses other than their sight. As reenactors we become immune to those sounds and smells that surround us, but for the public they are all part of the experience. Next time the public jumps at the sound of the cannon, don’t ignore it, comment on it. “Oh my, the battle is getting very close to camp. I wonder if we will be moving soon?” Using those senses as a way to engage the public and connect their reaction to the reactions of historic people, helps solidify their experience. It’s no longer just a loud sound to them but makes them think about what those sounds would have meant historically. And really, isn’t making those experiences concrete and memorable really what reenacting is all about?

Next time you are stumped for ways to start a conversation with the public, I hope you will think back to this list & realize that interactions with the public don’t have to be complicated or structured to be effective. Even the smallest interaction, if done in a positive, informative and honest way, can help to draw the public into our world as historic interpreters and have a lasting impact on their understanding of history.

What is your favorite first person way to break the ice?

See You In The Past!