"Small talk is a quick way to connect on a human level, which is why it is by no means as irrelevant as the people who are bad at it insist."-- Lynn Coady
Why should you care about making small talk?
Have you ever avoided a networking event, where you needed to introduce yourself to strangers and initiate conversations? Or maybe you went to the event but stayed close to the people you already knew, which meant you didn't meet anyone new, which was the whole point of going?
If we were to take a poll in those situations, most people would admit to a similar discomfort. However, if you're the one who makes the move, gets that conversation started, others appreciate it and they appreciate you. And, while you don't know what will come of it -- it may be something great or not much at all -- you will never find out if you don't try.
Have you ever wished you could get to know someone better in a business context -- a client? a colleague? a boss? -- but not known how to do it? If so, you can either learn to make small talk or you can continue to suffer through those uncomfortable situations and missed opportunities.
Have you ever avoided a work-related social activity because you didn't know what to say? Small talk often functions as warm-up talk that helps you get to know (and hopefully like) each other better. These conversations can lead to deeper conversations and stronger relationships.
How are you thinking about small talk?
If you've been thinking "I hate small talk" or "What a waste of time," you will need a new mindset if you want to develop the skills.
Begin by taking the pressure off yourself. Nobody is going to judge how witty or insightful you are. It's not a competition. It's just "informal, friendly conversation" (says Merriam-Webster), as you discover what you two have in common.
It is simply about taking a sincere interest in the other person, inviting them into a conversation, and being willing to share yourself as well. That's the mindset!
How can you develop your small talk skills?
You may not realize it, but you're already making small talk. When you greet a friend or relative you haven't seen in a while, you probably don't launch right into a serious discussion. You start with "How are you?" and "What have you been up to?" Now you just need to start doing the same thing in the business context.
Start wherever you are. If you're comfortable making small talk in some business situations, experiment with it in other business situations. If you feel like you're starting from scratch, begin by:
Making eye contact, smiling, offering your hand, introducing yourself;
Making a comment (for example, state the obvious, such as,"This is quite a turnout tonight");
Asking a question (for example, "Have you been to this event before?");
Think of it as a game of ping pong, with the conversational ball going back and forth between the two of you.
Be willing to talk about lots of different topics, especially the ones raised by the other person.
Each time you try to make small talk, take note of the fact that you lived through the experience. Each time you do it, it will get easier.
Why is small talk worth the effort?
People prefer to do business with people they know, like and trust. Small talk is a way to show that you're interested in the other person beyond just, "Let's do business."
Putting others at ease makes it more likely that person is going to open up to you. Taking a real interest in them and sharing yourself is going to foster trust and increase your influence. In contrast, getting down to business immediately leaves out the human connection.
Small talk offers you a way to build human connections while building business. And the good news is you'll get better with practice.
Just take an authentic interest in the other person, invite them into a conversation, and be willing to share yourself. Give it your best, and you'll reap the rewards.