It takes courage to walk up to someone and engage in small talk. What do you talk about? What if there is a lull in the conversation? What if you end up doing all of the talking?
Whether you are nervous because you just are not confident, you lack practice, or you have no idea what to talk about, don’t worry because it happens to all of us.
Why don’t we like small talk?
One of the main reasons many of us don’t like small talk is because we all find ourselves engaging in small talk just to have something to say, as often it is a topic we have no interest in or have discussed a thousand times before.
But the fact of the matter is we can’t avoid it. Small talk is here to stay. Getting a job, entertaining clients, working with colleagues, or acquiring new business leads…all require some form of small talk. So, we better learn how to do it.
Benefits of Small Talk
Small talk is where great conversations begin and can lead to new prospects. It’s an opportunity to build rapport with someone, gather some information on a specific topic, learn something new, or it could even lead to the beginning of closing that million dollar deal.
Mastering small talk helps you find common ground with new contacts, whether that is shared interests, business prospects, or strategic alliances. It is about determining if this conversation warrants another one in the near future.
While it can come naturally to some, small talk is an easily learned skill that you can get better at with a little practice.
Tips for Learning How to Small Talk
Entering a room, knowing you will have to small talk with strangers can be daunting, so don’t forget to come prepared so you are not faced with awkward silences in between topics. Debra Fine, lecturer and author of The Fine Art of Small Talk says, “As I drive to a party, I try to come up with two or three things to talk about in case the conversation runs dry.” If you were going to a networking event for marketing, it would be in your best interest to have some questions in your back pocket on cutting-edge marketing trends, the latest technologies, or clever campaigns and mediums.
Do your homework and get to know a little bit about the host or sponsor of the event, as well as any keynote speakers. Think about topics they may be interested in talking about and are timely.
Always listen carefully when someone states their name and try to repeat it 2-3 times during a conversation so you won’t forget. If someone mumbles or you can’t quite catch their name don’t be afraid to ask them to repeat it for you
Ask Thought-Provoking Questions
In order to avoid boring conversations, or to combat awkward long silences, start by asking a thought-provoking question.
- How did you get into your line of work?
- What’s your connection to this event?
- What do you do in your spare time?
- Who played an important role in your career, and why?
- What’s the worst advice you ever received?
Listen and Learn
Small talk isn’t all about finding topics to converse on, active listening is just as important. To make any conversation flow, it needs to be a two-way street. The conversation needs to flow back and forth. When you ask someone a question, make sure you actively listen to their response. Nothing is worse than someone having to tell you something twice in your short conversation. Active listening involves listening with all of your senses, being mindful of what is happening, and being present in the moment. It’s not about planning the next thing you are going to say or ask. It’s about listening with your eyes and ears and having an open heart and mind.
The very first impression you leave on someone will most likely start with an introduction and a handshake, so make sure you master it. Make direct eye contact, state your name while extending your hand, lean in slightly, smile, grasp the person’s hand firmly, shake up and down two to three times, and then release. Make sure you avoid using the bone crusher (squeezing someone’s hand too hard), or the limp noodle (not grasping firm enough and shaking with your fingers and not your hand).
Making sure you look comfortable and confident is a key component of small talk. Having an open stance that is directed at the person you are talking to will help the conversation flow. This shows the other person you are interested in what they have to say.
What’s more inviting? Someone with their arms crossed and head down, or someone who stands up straight with their head held high? Standing tall, raising your chin, planting your feet firmly on the ground exudes confidence and poise.
Whether it is talking to a complete stranger at a networking event, chatting to an acquaintance at an industry event, or waiting on line for your morning coffee at the local Starbucks, don’t forget to take the opportunity to small talk.