Whether it’s a networking event, dinner with acquaintances, first date, or business meeting, you’re going to have to engage in small talk. And most of the time, small talk can seem unimportant — even downright painful! The awkward silences … the struggle to find something to say … all you want to do is get out of there!
And while you may think small talk is inconsequential, it can lead to lasting and successful business relationships. A new client, job, or partnership — it all starts with small talk.
By following these tips, you’ll be able to create more connections with the people you meet and avoid the painful silence.
1. Stay informed on current events – News, sports, or local happenings are all great conversation pieces. Topics of general interest make great small talk, because everyone can contribute to the conversation. Make sure to steer clear of politics, though. Controversial and divisive topics never make good small talk.
2. Ask open-ended questions – Avoid questions with “yes” and “no” answers. Instead, ask questions that require an explanation. For instance, when meeting someone at a networking event, ask how he or she got involved in the industry rather than “What do you do for a living?”
3. Prepare three things to talk about – Just like you would prepare for a job interview, the art of small talk requires some pre-planning. Come up with three generic topics of conversation before you head out to a networking event.
4. Stay focused through active listening – The worst thing you could do is give the impression that you’re uninterested and not listening. Show that you’re listening by maintaining eye contact and adding to the conversation.
5. Send the right signals through body language – If you’re sitting, don’t slouch. If you’re standing, don’t fidget. Body language can speak louder than words, and you want it to show that you’re listening and enjoying the conversation.
6. Have exit lines ready – While small talk is important, you can’t spend all your networking time with one person. When it’s appropriate to make your exit, you could say something like “I have a client here I need to meet with,” thank the person, and ask for his or her business card if you see potential for a professional relationship.
While small talk can seem unimportant, it can lead to real connections. So avoid the pitfalls of small talk and follow these simple tips. It could mean the difference between an insignificant conversation and a lasting connection.