Imagine you’re at a networking event, making small talk with strangers like a pro—surfing topics from pop culture to positive current events. Smiling, laughing, building your network, and wait for it . . . having fun! No awkward silences and stale, recycled conversations about sports and the weather. You’re not dreaming; it is possible. It just takes a little planning and preparation. In this mini blog, let’s look at three easy tips that can help make small talk a less awkward and more engaging experience.
- Be well-read and informed. Small talk is not a solo sport, so do your part. Read books. Stay current on local, national, and world news. Don’t show up to your event and rely on others to carry the conversations. If you’re playing catch up on your reading or you’re pressed for time, review an easy-to-digest news site like The Skimm to find positive world events and pop culture topics that are appropriate to discuss at your networking function. Being well-read and informed gives your confidence a boost. It also helps keep small talk conversations fresh––because a monotone 90-second elevator speech will only take you so far.
- Know before you go. Research the event before you go. Who is sponsoring the event? If there is a keynote speaker, what is her professional background, and what is her speech about? Is the event being held for charity? Are there auction items, and if so, what are they? The answers to these questions can be a rich source of engaging small talk topics that your conversation partners will appreciate. After conducting your research, you might actually look forward to attending the event!
- Ask follow-up questions. Impactful small talk conversations happen when you ask questions. Instead of responding with a “me too” and a monologue about yourself, focus on your conversation partner by asking on-topic questions. (But don’t pepper her with random questions; that’s an interrogation, not a conversation.) A good practice is to ask three follow-up questions before pivoting the focus to yourself or changing the topic. This simple connection-building technique does two things: it helps you learn about your conversation partner, and it helps her feel seen and heard.
That’s it! These three easy tips can help make small talk a less awkward and more engaging experience.
For more great tips on small talk, check out chapter 6 of my book Modern Business Etiquette for Young & Fabulous Professionals.
To find more topics on business etiquette, read our blog posts here.
Stayce Wagner is the author of Modern Business Etiquette for Young & Fabulous Professionals, available at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, the iTunes Store, and other major outlets. Stayce is the founder and CEO of Spencer Crane Etiquette, LLC, where business etiquette and authenticity are partners, not rivals. We invite you to contact us today to discuss how we can help you with your business etiquette needs.