In everyday life, you encounter new people in unfamiliar situations: at work, on a date, at a party. And regardless of who you are and what you do, communicating with people is an important part of work and life. But all this networking and meeting new people comes with a caveat: small talk.
A lot of people hate small talk and will avoid networking and other events because they don’t want to make small talk. When they do get to an event, they’ll hover close to the people they already know. That’s not only an ineffective use of a networking event, but it’s also short-sighted.
Small talk is the foundation upon which a relationship is built. And whether the relationship is a business venture, a potential job opportunity, or a new friend, it’s important to know how to foster those relationships via face-to-face communication. Here are a few tips for mastering the art of conversation and turning it to your advantage.
Do Your Research
It’s always good to know who you’ll be talking to ahead of time. While this isn’t always possible in a social setting or open networking event, it’s a definite must-do when it comes to meetings and job interviews.
Seventy-four percent of American internet users are on social media. Take a look at the Twitter or LinkedIn profiles of anyone you’re set to meet. Take note of any connections you have in common, whether they’re people or interests. That way when you go into your meeting, you have those topics to draw on for conversation. In addition to improving your small talk skills, you’ll also impress them with the attention you’ve paid to them as a person.
Lower Your Expectations
Don’t rest all your entrepreneurial hopes and dreams on a first conversation. When you meet someone for the first time, chances are you aren’t going to work out your next big project or a partnership right then and there. Give the relationship time to develop and grow organically.
With too much pressure on yourself, you’re not as relaxed during an event or meeting, and won’t be able to enjoy yourself as much as you would without any expectations. Keep your hopes at a manageable level. Expect to come away from an event with a great conversation about the latest New York Times bestseller or with a new concert venue to check out.
Have Something to Say, and Say it
If small talk isn’t your strong suit, don’t go into a social or networking situation without at least three things to talk about. They can be anything, including the latest Netflix binge-watching craze, a cupcake bar that opened just up the block, or a podcast you really like. When you have those things to draw on, you can effectively start conversations with anyone.
And to start those conversations, just come out and state your opinion on something. It can be tempting to lead with a question, but by entering a conversation with a statement rather than a question, it shows you’re willing to participate in the conversation too, not just stand by and listen to others talk.
Studies have shown that remembering things is linked to your level of interest, and that includes someone’s name, too. Do your best to keep track of the people you meet, and their names, by remembering key facts about them that interest you. For example, maybe someone’s last name is Pulaski and you remember it by the fact that you’re both avid skiers.
You never know when you’ll meet them again in a work situation or otherwise, and remembering their name when you meet again makes a great impression.
Follow up with your questions after the start of the conversation. Asking people questions does two things. It shows people you’re interested in what they have to say, and it draws them out of their own anti-small talk tendencies.
People love talking about themselves, so avoid yes or no questions. Instead, ask open-ended questions about what they think about something, or give them a two-option question. For example, if they’re from out of town, ask if they flew in or rented a car. Oftentimes, they’ll open up and elaborate on one of the options and their travel experience.
Don’t Fear Silences
Silences are a natural part of any conversation — there’s an old saying that there that there’s a lull in any conversation every seven minutes. You’re just less likely to notice them when surrounded with people you know.
When in a situation where you don’t know people that well, silences can seem extra long. Studies have shown that it only takes four seconds for a pause to feel awkward. Avoid uncomfortable pauses and use silences as an opportunity for transition. Read the people you’re talking to and either ease into a new topic of conversation or excuse yourself.
Know How to Get Out Clean
The art of an exit from a conversation is almost as hard to master as the art of small talk itself. Try these methods:
- Excuse yourself from the conversation by stating something else you have to attend to. Pointing out the fact that you need to say hi to someone or want to get something to eat lets people know that you aren’t just leaving because you’re bored.
- Another great tip is to tell someone you’ve enjoyed speaking with them. When possible, include a topic that you spoke about. For example: “I need to go check in for my presentation, but I enjoyed speaking with you about your work in South America.”
Making small talk can often seem like a necessary evil, but by remembering these ideas, you’ll be the life of the party in no time. What are some techniques you use to enhance your small talk skills? Share in the comments below.
*This post can also be viewed on Punched Clocks.