[Movie still from Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi, Lucasfilm]
You find yourself stuck on a Vogon ship and are brought forward for a poetry reading. Shoved out of line before the Conehead Highmaster, you are instructed to Gnarfle the Garthok. You enter a glossy black throne room, and are confronted with Darth Sidious/Galactic Emperor Palpatine. What do you say in a moment like that? How to you even begin to converse with an alien who has complete control over you, your ship, and maybe even your planet? Anyone can be flustered by small talk, but when you’re under pressure like this it’s important to prepare. Before you discuss the future of your species with a hostile alien overlord, here are a few tips to help you get ready.
Oh, the humanity...well...Vogonity...of it all!
Do Your Research
Whenever possible, get to know your overlord’s reputation before meeting them in person. Do they enjoy the snivelling whimpers of the conquered? Are you being brought before them on the expectation that you will be aggressive and defiant? If you know what they are looking for, you’ll be better able to deliver it when you meet. But how should you act when you do meet? Well, you should try to...
Be Amazed and Reverent at All Times
At the end of the day, this is what your alien overlord wants from you. You have been called forward to speak so that your overlord can enjoy the opportunity to feel grand, adored, respected, and feared. Are you in any position to defy them? If not, give them what they want! Tell them how grand they are, how impressed you are, and how everyone else feels the same way, cowering before you. Do you have the means to defy your overlord? Well, then this is the best tactic for keeping your cover. Let them believe you are weak and small while you amass your forces to lead a revolution.
Ak, ak ak ak? Oh, you don’t say! That must ak ak ak!
Know Your Place
This is your overlord, and you are their subject (at least, that’s how they’re going to see the world, so we’re working from that perspective). Don’t assume you are supposed to do anything! Approach your meeting with an air of fear and awe, and you’ll be handled as the compliant subordinate you are. Besides, chances are you will be surrounded by guards for most of your conversations! That means if you are require to sit, stand, kneel, withstand torture, etc., you will be directed and perhaps even helped. Now, if you are directed to speak, you’ll need something to say. Concerned you won’t know what to talk about? Well…
Express how glad you are to be there
It’s important to see your visit with the supreme alien overlord the way that they do: as an honor. To your host, this is something you should be grateful for and/or fear: the opportunity to speak openly with their honorable self. You should do your level best to treat it with the same respect and attitude. Everyone likes being told how delighted their guests are to meet them, even if their guests did arrive in shackles.
Stick with Compliments, Avoid Controversy
Compliment earnestly whenever possible. Many alien species can detect dishonesty and none of them approve of snivelling insincere flattery. Remark on their impressive countenance, their command of their troops, or the fear they’ve managed to inspire in the general populace. At the same time, steer clear of topics your overlord might find controversial. For instance, it’s best not to comment on weaknesses their troops are showing, the prowess of their enemies, or the indomitable will of the people they oppress - unless it’s to soothe them and convince them how soon their power will crush every threat to it.
[Movie still from Coneheads, Paramount Pictures]
May I have 55 words with you? Most of them are compliments...
Agree, or Ask Them To Elaborate
An overlord never likes defiance. Never. Unless they’re in the market for a toy to play with or target practice (in which case, we’d advise against giving them what they want)! So when they make comments about you, or the world, you have two options: defer to the clear superiority of their intelligence, or humbly ask that they bestow upon you more information about the subject at hand. In the case of the former, the overlord will likely bask in your deference; in the case of the later, this gives them the chance to monologue - and every despot loves the opportunity to listen to themselves talk! Which leads us to the next tip…
Let Them Talk
An autocrat loves to talk - that’s an intergalactic truth! If you’ve been brought before your overlord to give them an audience, then an audience is precisely what they are looking for. They don’t want you to tell them a story, they don’t want you to elaborate or share with them something you just read about. They want to talk. You are there so that they can talk. Your comments should be as minimal as possible, and only made when you have been given leave by your overlord to speak.
Yes, feel the confidence flowing through you...
Altogether, general small talk works the best: small subjects, light commentary, and open-ended questions your conversation partner wants to answer. Small talk, in the end, is really about letting your conversation partner feel as comfortable as possible with you in whatever situation you find yourselves. It’s about letting them feel appreciated and that you enjoy their company. Chit chat with an alien overlord is just a little different, as their discomfort with a conversation could lead to your death and slow digestion over a period of a thousand years. But, you know, good luck!