How small talk helped my project succeed

Jul 31 2014

A question that has plagued graduates since the dawn of time and turns them into stammering messes: “What are you doing now that you’ve graduated?”

I’m no different, but it’s especially bad for me because I am the worst person in the world at small talk. But while working with Reese News Lab this summer, I’ve come to see that there are a lot of benefits to small talk, especially when it comes to helping develop your product.

Having just graduated from UNC this summer, I spend a lot of time answering the above-mentioned question from family and friends alike. This leads to a lot of explaining about working in Reese News Lab and specifically with my team on our project, Powering a Nation, a graphically-driven site for environmental content.

And while this may seem exhausting (spoiler alert: It is), it’s actually been a huge help to us. Having to explain your product over and over again allows you to realize which details are actually important and retool others because charging someone $100 a month might not be the most financially viable option. With all of this in mind, you can then craft an “elevator pitch” which allows you to give all of the relevant details of your product in a small span of time.

However, the biggest advantage (sometimes disadvantage), is that a lot of times you get instant feedback. When telling people about Powering a Nation. I would get a lot of suggestions for how to tailor it to best serve them.

I received comments about everything from the name to “Why does it have to be about the environment? That’s boring!”. When you are discussing your summer plans with someone, they tend to be a lot more candid than if you asked them in a survey.

This candid advice can also be helpful, such as when my mother mentioned that she didn’t read a lot of environmental news because it’s too complicated, which lead to us aiming to make science easier to read for the layperson. You have to remember, though, that can lead down a black hole of ideas that your project will never escape from. (Trust me, I’ve been there.) So while you should take all feedback into account, sometimes it’s better to just let some of it go.

So when you’re sitting around the dinner table with your family and the question of what you’re doing this summer comes up, don’t shy away from it: pitch your product. You may never know what you could learn.

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