Yesterday I saw a man ride down College Avenue on a skateboard with a one-and-a-half foot orange bearded dragon on his shoulder.
When I caught up to them at Starbucks, I learned that the lizard’s name is Dean, and his owner’s name is Ben. Dean is very docile and rides with Ben around town. Ben takes him to parties and loves showing him off.
“I love it when little kids come up and ask to pet him, seeing their eyes light up when they touch him is awesome,” Ben said.
As he said this, I was the little wide eyed kid stroking Dean’s back. I said goodbye to this colorful pair and continued down the street, with a story idea and a smile on my face.
I’m a reporter-in-training for the Daily Collegian. I wish that this title meant that I am simply learning how to write—learning to extract the necessary pieces from some source of information and turn them into a short and interesting article. But the duties of a reporter stretch far beyond simply writing articles.
The reporter must analyze and condense the information, but only after he himself has gathered it. This may mean walking to the state college police department every day to catch their media briefing, conducting hours of online research, or making dozens of phone calls to find a knowledgeable source. And sometimes, the reporter must do what is unthinkable to many—talk to intimidating, complete strangers.
In fact, this is how it works most of the time. For several reasons, the reporter rarely knows the person they are interviewing/writing about. And in order to find new and exciting story ideas that will impress his editors, the reporter sometimes must walk up to random people on the street or in the hub and say in the most casual voice he can muster; “hi, may I ask what you’re doing?”
Oh, the horror! In that moment he is completely exposed–a nosy, annoying freshman who is sure to be struck down with a no. He’s about to be rejected, and there’s nothing scarier than that.
Except usually, this isn’t the case. Most people are like Ben—they love to share their story, or their lizard, with anyone who expresses a genuine interest.
This isn’t just a lesson for reporters. I get nervous before saying hi to anyone I don’t know—whether I’m in a reporter state of mind or simply I’m-a-freshman-looking-for-friends mode. It is difficult take that social leap of faith, because there is always the possibility that the person you’ve just decided to talk to will ignore you or that you’ll say something stupid or that you’ll somehow end up wasting your time. But by the same token, you may meet a lifelong friend, make a connection that will one day get you a job or learn something new that you find completely intriguing.
The people I admire most are those who can talk to anyone without being overbearing. How did they develop this skill? They practiced by walking up to strangers, introducing themselves, and starting a conversation. That’s all it takes to develop relationships, make friends and be successful.
So I’m practicing. I hope that you’ll give it a try, too.