'Legally Blonde,' 2001. Photo via IMDB.

Mastering small talk: A guide to sorority recruitment conversation

April Palombo Setliff. Photo by Joey Bordelon.

You can plan the outfit, hair and makeup, but one major factor–possibly the most important—will remain up in the air until walking through the sorority house doors during recruitment this fall: conversation. The art of speaking and being spoken to isn’t quite as simple as it seems on the surface. Regardless of whether you’re outgoing or introverted, there are important etiquette points that might not come naturally, especially in the age of technology.

And while we could go on and on about how the sorority members are just as anxious for you to like them as you are for the feeling to be reciprocated, we know from experience that the advice doesn’t have much impact. To offer some concrete suggestions for successful rush encounters, we sat down with April Palombo Setliff, past Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter president and a current advisor, as well as the etiquette expert behind Red Stick Refinement, to learn her go-to tips.

1. Don’t chew gum. Ever.

There isn’t much to elaborate on here other than that the habit might help your breath, but it doesn’t help your conversation. Smacking while talking is a major no go. Instead, pop a mint before walking inside. It’s likely that the girls running recruitment will be on the sidelines offering the breath-enhancing refreshments.

2. It’s all about body language.

Setliff explains that when talking to someone new, as you will be for the entirety of recruitment, it’s important to look open and interested. Her number-one suggestion is to avoid crossing your arms. In addition, be sure to nod and act interested while the girls are talking to you.

“One great tip for the ice water round,” she explains, “is to hold your drink in your left hand. That leaves your right hand open for handshakes that aren’t cold and wet.”

3. Stand with one foot slightly in front of the other.

Setliff says that this suggestion actually comes from Liv Tyler’s etiquette book Modern Manners–yes, she has an etiquette book. The rocker’s daughter advises that the most relaxed but respectful way to stand is with shoulders down, hands by your side and one foot slightly in front of the other.

“This position is great for recruitment because it doesn’t put off one impression or another,” Setliff says. “It’s neutral.”

4. Open with a compliment.

“To set the tone of a conversation in the right direction, start with a compliment,” says Setliff. “But the compliment has to be genuine. Maybe it’s about liking the girl’s shoes or it could be about the floral arrangements in the house. Make a real observation and the conversation will flow from there.”

5. Anticipate questions.

For ice water round, girls will likely ask where you are from, what you did in high school, what your major is and what dorm you’ll be staying in. While they’re simple questions, they’re also ones that could lead to dead ends and one-word answers.

“Try to find things to add that are unique to you and will make you stand out,” Setliff says. “One opportunity is if your summer activities come up. Be prepared to share something more than surface-level.”

For philanthropy round, the questions will get a little deeper, revolving around charities and more specific interests. However, Setliff says the best thing you can do is come with questions.

“Ask ‘What does your money go to?’ or ‘What is your philanthropy?'” explains Setliff. “You want to seem interested, so ask questions to learn more about the sorority’s cause of choice.”

6. Avoid fidgeting.

While the entire experience of recruitment can be stress inducing, Setliff says to leave your hair, accessories and hem alone while in the houses. If necessary, don’t wear a watch or excess jewelry. Fidgeting can be distracting, and you want the girls to remember you for your conversation, not the annoying way you were twisting your hair the whole time.

7. Humor is healthy.

You don’t need to be serious the whole time! Remember, these girls are similar in age and have a lot of the same interests. It’s OK to joke, but Setliff advises that sarcasm can be detrimental in situations with new acquaintances.

“You want to be yourself and let your personality shine through, so making jokes and being funny is good,” says Setliff. “But sarcasm isn’t a good idea. Some people can’t read it, and it likely won’t come across the way you want it to.”

8. Don’t gossip.
During the recruitment process, it is very likely that you will be paired up with girls from your hometown. Louisiana is small and it’s more likely than not that you know mutual people. That being said, avoid any temptation to bring up that crazy thing you heard over the summer. You never know who knows who and you don’t want to start off with a bad impression. It’s best to stay positive in any and every conversation.

9. When in doubt, smile.

Prepare yourself: there will be singing. And while it’s awkward to stand next to someone you’ve only just met while they sing a very loud version of a familiar tune, Setliff’s advice is to just smile.

“It is definitely awkward and overwhelming when the girls are singing,” notes Setliff. “The best advice I have is to just take a deep breath and smile. Try not to fidget and try your best to look interested. I know I’m someone that you can see my emotions all over my face, but I think what I would do is just try my best to breathe and make my smile look as natural as possible.”

10. Be direct.

When it comes to the last round, sorority members are looking to know who actually wants to be there and who doesn’t. Because of this, Setliff says it’s best to be direct.

“Really for any conversation, being direct is the best option,” she says. “However, with preference, the girls are trying to figure out where to put girls on their list. Saying things like ‘I can see myself here’ or ‘I feel comfortable here’ helps rule out the guessing game and lets the sorority member know that you actually want to be there on bid day.”

Learn more about Setliff and Red Stick Refinement in this story from the inRegister archives, or online at redstickrefinement.com.

This story originally appeared in a June 2019 edition of inRegister@Home.