This Is How Those Cool People Make Small Talk Look Easy

small talkFor just a minute, I want you to imagine yourself walking into a room of 100 strangers for a meet-and-greet at a local hotel ballroom. I’m standing just inside the door with a large stack of $10 bills. I tell you that I will give you $10 for every stranger you make small talk with over the next two hours. However, you have to tell me one thing you learned about that person. Be honest … how much money will you have in your hand two hours from now? $50? $100? $250? Or $10?

Some of you, especially if you’re in sales, are scoffing and saying, “Hey, Dan … hand me $1,000 …” because you are that confident in your ability to make small talk. However, for most of us (including me) we just don’t naturally make small talk. It’s not our “thing.”

Small talk can lead to big things

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 for some. The awkward silences … the struggle to find something to say … all you want to do is get out of there.

However, while you may think small talk is inconsequential, it can lead to lasting and successful business relationships. A new client, job, or partnership—it often 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. Take the recent volcano activity in Hawaii. Even if a person hasn’t kept up with it, they’ll talk about it because it’s interesting and unusual. Make sure to avoid politics, though. Controversial and divisive topics never make good small talk.

  1. 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?” Or, ask “What’s your favorite part of your job?” Keep it positive and don’t ask what their least favorite part is.

  1. 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.

  1. 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. Actually LISTEN to what the other person is saying and don’t think about what you’re going to say next.

  1. Send the right signals through body language

If you’re sitting, don’t slouch. If you’re standing, don’t fidget. Body language speaks louder than words, and you want it to show that you’re listening and enjoying the conversation.

  1. 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. Obviously, you need a supply of your own business cards on hand to reciprocate.

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.

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