The purpose of having a meal or snack before the Alpha video & discussion is to connect with guests, get to know people and have casual conversations.
It's often during mealtime that friendships are formed, laughter breaks down socio-economic barriers and people are more willing to share in small groups later on. Here are some informative and humorous guidelines to help you have great conversations:
1. Use first names: Alpha is about building relationships and trust. People feel cared for when you remember their names. Use their name often when chatting with them but maybe not too much, “Hi Chris, how are you Chris? Oh your name isn’t Chris?” (especially if you aren’t 100% sure).
2. Avoid the topic of religion during dinner: Alpha training says to avoid religious talk over dinner. This also means don’t ask Alpha guests “So, do you attend this church?” People feel guilty if they haven’t been to church in a long time, or ever. Another one to avoid is asking about jobs--many people are not working or are in transition. Stay away from that one too.
3. Talk about neutral topics: Chat about things like food, hobbies, movies, summer activities and travel destinations. Avoid asking about family or where people live (at least not right away). There’s a fine line between caring and creepy.
4. Ask questions: When a guest makes a comment, keep the focus on them and ask for clarification or further details. If someone says “I had a terrible week. I lost my wallet!" then avoid launching into a story all about you. “You did? That reminds me of a time I lost MY wallet 10 years ago.” Show sympathy and care by asking [appropriate] questions.
5. Listen well. When people talk, maintain eye contact and nod in agreement or show some gesture of acknowledgement. Avoid looking at your watch or at the people behind the person talking. Don’t interrupt unless something is on fire.
6. Share something about yourself too. Balance the conversation by telling about a funny incident that happened to you recently, or something that really interests you. If you only ask questions, the person will feel interrogated or like they’re on a first date.
7. Introduce them to other people. Alpha is the perfect environment to get people mixing and mingling: “Hey Shana, I just met Matt over here and he’s also really into axe throwing!” Some people come to Alpha only for the food but what keeps them coming back are the friendships.