What is Big Talk?
Big Talk is a communication approach that facilitates more meaningful life connections—with friends, family, coworkers, teammates, classmates, strangers, and even oneself—through the process of skipping the small talk to ask more open-ended and thought-provoking questions. Big Talk elicits responses that help people build empathetic relationships and share life stories. Big Talk is a video series, a card game, an educational and business tool, a TEDx talk with 6.5 million views, a government-funded international Fulbright research project, and a powerful platform that encourages people to share their most profound thoughts, feelings, and life stories—making their voices heard.
Why make Big Talk?
Loneliness, social isolation, and feelings of disconnection have increased. With technology, it’s easy to reach a million people all over the world, yet it’s become harder to have a meaningful conversation in everyday life. Face-to-face social connection is strongly associated with well-being and happiness, while heavy use of social media platforms is associated with feelings of depression and lower life satisfaction. Learning how to make Big Talk helps to fight those feelings of isolation and fosters empathy and belonging in communities, through encouraging thoughtful interaction, active listening, and storytelling. This translates into better verbal communication skills, more meaningful relationships, and a greater sense of belonging in the world.
Big Talk’s Purpose
The purpose of Big Talk is to enhance interpersonal communications, respect people’s differences while honoring the commonalities of human experiences, and serve as a platform to build empathy across boundaries of difference.
Four years ago, Kalina Silverman started Big Talk as an experimental video series while studying broadcast journalism at Northwestern University. When she first arrived at school, she met new people each day, yet still felt a sense of loneliness and superficiality that made her feel disconnected.
So, she tried skipping small talk to “make Big Talk”, and immediately noticed she was making more meaningful connections with her peers. Encouraged by this reaction, she made a video, where she approached strangers and asked them the Big Talk question: “What do you want to do before you die?”
Kalina was surprised when people answered the question and shared their most personal and moving life stories. This openness gave Kalina the type of bond she was missing with small talk, and her interactions with strangers turned into friendships she still maintains today. To share her Big Talk experiences, she edited the footage and posted the video to YouTube. Within a couple of weeks, the video went viral and the Huffington Post, USA Today, Business Insider, and Right this Minute wrote feature stories about Big Talk.
As stories and feedback began pouring in from people around the world who also felt frustrated with small talk, Kalina was inspired to grow Big Talk into more than a personal passion project, but rather into a global social impact initiative that could help people communicate and connect around the world.
Kalina was invited to give a TEDx talk, “How to skip the small talk and connect with anyone.” It now has 6.5 million views, and Big Talk has appeared in Forbes, USA Today, NBC News, the LA Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, the Today Show Online, The Big Ten Network, and Business Insider. Through organic widespread reach, Big Talk has grown into a global movement.
Kalina has received outreach from people all over the world who have been inspired to join the Big Talk movement and they have shared their experiences – from how Big Talk inspired them to reconnect with estranged family members and find love in romantic relationships, to opening up at work and dealing with depressive and suicidal thoughts.
Now, Kalina travels around the world making videos, delivering lectures, and leading workshops about how people can “make Big Talk,” – at work, with friends and family, with strangers, and even by themselves – to make their everyday lives more purposeful and meaningful. She has spoken to corporations (Microsoft, Google, Adobe, Acelero Learning, Elite SEM) and schools (Northwestern, USC, University of Maryland Business School). In 2017, Big Talk was awarded a Fulbright research grant for the study “How to use Big Talk to establish empathy across cultures.” In 2019, Kalina was selected as a Fulbright Ambassador, and presented on Capitol Hill to Senator Dick Durbin and to Senator Chris Coons, who ended up using Big Talk at his staff retreat.
A cross-cultural communications ambassador, Kalina has delivered Big Talk events at WeWork in Australia, at a business school in Kazakhstan, and the U.S. state department in Uzbekistan – She also delivered a Big Talk keynote for 1000 teenage girls for a UN International Day of the Girl Celebration.
Today, Big Talk is an enterprise that includes videos, an app, a card game (Big Talk card game on Amazon), educational programs, as well as events worldwide, from the U.S. to Australia, South Africa, Kazakhstan, China, Trinidad and Tobago. Adopters of Big Talk have included the Los Angeles Lakers, superstar celebrities such as Billie Eilish, Lorde, and Keith Urban in a series launched by Universal Music Australia, a U.S. Senator and the U.S. State Department, Harvard Medical School, Northwestern Business School, University of Southern California, New York University Shanghai, numerous mental health professionals, military veterans, employees across Amazon, Microsoft and Google, and even a prison education startup. Big Talk has also inspired a marriage proposal!
Meet the team
Kalina created Big Talk. She travels globally to make videos, give lectures, and help teach people how to “make Big Talk” in different environments and cultures. Kalina received her degree in Broadcast Journalism from Northwestern University and spent a year working as a Fulbright Research Scholar in Singapore studying ways to use Big Talk to establish empathy across cultures. She is now a U.S. Fulbright Ambassador.
Skip the small talk: What do you want to do before you die?
“Before I die, I want to build a ranch that employs refugees fleeing conflict zones and provides fun educational opportunities for visitors. I also hope to raise a family, paint a mural, and compose music.”
Leigh’s background is in management consulting. She helps her clients improve their business operations through business process re-engineering, process improvement methodologies, and performance measurement capabilities. Leigh graduated from Georgetown University where she studied Human Biology and was a coxswain for the men’s varsity rowing team.
Skip the small talk: What makes you feel really alive?
“Latin dancing! After I had 3 hip surgeries at 14 years old, I started dancing as a more functional and exciting form of physical therapy. I used it as a creative outlet, and as a way to build strength and flexibility. Since then, I developed a deep passion for dancing. While I love to be on the competition floor, my friends would also tell you that I can be found aimlessly dancing around the room at any given moment.”