With the rapidly-approaching film adaptation of the first His Dark Materials novel, The Golden Compass (Northern Lights), popularity will naturally spring. And you may find yourself a sudden target of something rather blunt and unexpected. You can only brace yourself for this. It'll be good old-fashioned highway robbery: "What's my dæmon?" Highway robbery - the worst non-choice ever invented by man: your money or your life. It's a choice, and whatever happens is your fault, but neither one is looking too good for you. You get this right or else I'll lop your head off and it's your fault either way. Apparently, you ought to know. And also, it ought to be good.
The Roman satirist Juvenal once remarked, "Bread and circuses. That is all the people desire." If you cannot sustain the necessary, sustain a lust here for entertainment. Truth may be all one needs, truth might be enough, but truth might also gain you the reputation of an ass if the only responses you can think of include "a bird, you're terribly flighty."
It's much easier to classify personalities based on the negative because they're often qualities highlighted if the person questioning you is more positive. It's simple to notice the black feather on the white bird. However, the casual questioner generally isn't looking for soul-searching, rather fulfillment to the idea "how cool would it be to have an animal-companion like that" or maybe even involvement into whatever you, the HDM fan, must experience or know from the intricate depths of your reading and intensive thought-process of finishing the trilogy. Your answer, or else I'll know you're in fact, an idiot, despite all that reading you do.
I've been introduced over the years to a number of ways to "find the true man," one involves volcanoes, most others are harmless. For a couple years I've been keeping a "commonplace book," a storing of quotations, images, or pieces of stories which strike me in a particular way. This is an activity I share with the historic figures of Francis Bacon and John Milton. I like to stand in the shadows of the great men, finding nothing of the sun's warmth yet experiencing the coolness of shadow they can only wonder at from their place. Knowing the favorite quotations of a person can let you see the things they consider important. My commonplace book contains a morbid number of quotations on death, a fascination with time, life and meaning, and very little on love. Probably a contradiction.
One professor I particularly enjoyed while at University advised that a person's favorite joke can tell a lot about them. I need my hands to tell my favorite joke - I might believe that words can create images. I learned my joke from my dad - family might have a strong influence over me. A priest I know also enforces the idea that the stories one tells reveal things about themselves. I'd hope that everyone has at least one story they like to tell anywhere, to anyone, no matter what it means or doesn't mean to them. Our simple advice from Pullman, "tell them stories."
Insist. Give yourself time or distract them. Magic is what happens when you've got them looking at the other hand. Hear a story, a quotation, and a joke from them if you can. Maybe it will tell you something or maybe it won't, but it gave the impression that you took them seriously at least. Perhaps your time with them is over then, perhaps they're thinking the dæmon-question out for themself. Or maybe you've just bought a bit of time where you can come up with some brilliant reasoning on, why like so many other dæmons in the world, theirs is an eagle, or a lion. Jerry was right, no one wants to hear about their poodle dæmon, especially if they never have to see it.
Everyone in their heart wants those things to be theirs: strong and fearless and fascinating and full of courage and goodness and life and awe. If you can't give them a reality, give them satisfaction their heart is in the right place. Even the least of the poodles can face down a wild boar if properly motivated, it never has to understand that it's outranked.