Do you struggle with making small talk? Do you cringe at the thought of it, or—like me—even miss out on opportunities because you avoid it?
Well the great news is that it’s actually not that frightening once you start, and chances are that it will lead to much more good than bad. That being said, there are a few things to keep in mind when engaging in small talk…
(And if you think it’s pointless, check out our previous post on why small talk matters in business.)
1. It’s not about you.
Show an interest in the person you’re conversing with. Ask about them, listen carefully to their responses, and engage with insightful questions or advice (if solicited). Let them talk more and provide input when they’re at a loss for what to say. This is also a chance to learn something new.
2. Genuineness can’t be underestimated.
People naturally like—or at least trust—individuals who are open and honest. So if you use flattery on them, for example, be sincere about it. People can also tell when you’re not interested and/or talking to simply fill up the silence. If you’re looking for something to say, one of the easiest things to do is to ask them for help or to teach you about something they specialize in.
3. Make it worth everyone’s while.
If you have to do it, do it right; forget about meaningless chatter. Bring up issues that are relevant to you and your conversation partners; ask open-ended questions; and exchange ideas, tips and insights. At the very least, let there be some entertainment value through some (tasteful) humor or interesting anecdotes.
4. Know what not to do.
This depends on the context and who you’re talking to, but be aware of forbidden territory and don’t stray into it. As a rule, things like sex, politics and religion are inappropriate in business scenarios. Safe topics generally include: travel, non-political news, arts & culture, family, hobbies, food, etc.
5. It’s how you small talk.
Even neutral, “boring” topics can become exciting if you infuse your personality into the discussion. How you conduct small talk makes the difference between being unmemorable and being someone who people will want to meet and talk to over and over.
6. Keep informed.
To avoid appearing ignorant (which happens to me quite often!), stay up to date with current events and industry news. Not only will this supply you with topics to talk about, but it will also help boost your credibility.
7. Practice makes almost perfect.
Practice small talk with whomever is willing and whenever the opportunity arises. Whether you’re waiting in line at Starbucks or about to meet your career idol at a networking event, there’s almost always a good time to strike up a conversation.
And an extra tip…
8. Sometimes, it’s not appropriate.
Remember that small talk is only welcomed in specific cultures. For example, in countries like China and Germany, small talk is generally considered trivial, annoying or even invasive. Although it may take longer to develop relationships in those places, once forged, they tend to be strong and enduring.
Do you have any tips to add about small talk? Please feel free to share them in the comments!