How this Toronto man is helping people break the ice, move beyond small talk

A Toronto man says he runs workshops and events that teach people how to be more vulnerable when meeting others for the first time.

Jan Keck moved to Toronto from Germany 10 years ago

Jan Keck, creator of Ask Deep Questions, moved to Toronto 10 years ago and struggled to make meaningful connections. (Submitted)

When Jan Keck moved to Toronto from Germany 10 years ago, it was a lonely time.

While he had no trouble meeting people, he says the biggest challenge was connecting on a deeper level.

"I was surrounded by people all the time, but I still felt lonely inside," Keck said. "It was not that I didn't have anyone, it just felt like the people I surrounded myself with, I didn't know very well."

Keck moved to Toronto for an internship when he was 22 years old. He attended networking events to meet as many people as possible — but the first thing he noticed was that the interactions barely went beyond small talk.

"Everybody asked how you're doing, and coming from Germany I thought they wanted to know how my week has been," he said. "I started answering the question truthfully, but I realized they just wanted to hear 'fine thanks, how are you?'"

A sign outside an Ask Deep Questions event. (Jan Keck/Facebook)

Adults between 25-29 most likely to not know neighbours

A report released by the Toronto Foundation earlier this month looked at the relationships of Torontonians with neighbours and friends in their community. According to the study, young adults between 25 and 29 are among those most likely to not know any of their neighbours.

One contributing factor to this lack of connection could be precarious employment, according to Sarah Vermunt, a career coach who works with young adults in Toronto.

"They have a social life, but they don't necessarily feel deeper connections," she says.

Arif Jetha, associate scientist at the Institute for Work and Health in Toronto, says nearly half of all young people are precariously employed, according to research.

"As you can imagine, that can be quite stressful, that can leak out into their social lives."

Toronto-based career coach Sarah Vermunt says working with young adults who feel lost is a near-daily occurrence. (Martin Trainor/CBC News)

'Ask Deep Questions'

Since establishing a life in Toronto, Keck has learned to bypass small talk and make meaningful connections with others.

His own experience struggling to bond with new people in Toronto inspired him to help others who feel disconnected in similar ways.

"Everybody craves connection, and everybody wants to have those conversations," he says. "We just don't necessarily know how to."

Jan Keck poses with a participant at an Ask Deep Questions workshop. (Submitted)

Now, he runs workshops and events that teach people how to be more vulnerable when interacting with others.

"I was always surprised in the beginning when people said wow there's such a need for this," he said. "Because I didn't realize there are a lot of people, especially in Toronto, that don't have those meaningful conversations."

Keck also created a card game called 'Ask Deep Questions' that is designed to help people dig deeper and connect with strangers, friends and family alike.

"Now my mission really is to help other people who feel disconnected and to start those meaningful conversations."

With files from Lauren Pelley