How to make small talk

How to make small talk

 29 Jul 2021

 

Has the last year of working from home, with few opportunities for face to face meetings, meant that we have forgotten how to small talk?

Even before the pandemic, those little interactions with people at the coffee machine or social/networking events were not always straightforward. These few easy tips will have you picking up the pieces again and feeling more comfortable about starting conversations.

 

Expectations

Small talk is exactly that. Don’t put pressure on yourself to come up with the wittiest or cleverest things to say. You won’t feel comfortable, and the conversation won’t flow. It is enough to pass the time in a superficial way. Something more meaningful may develop or it may not, but the more often you engage in small talk, the easier it will become and the more contacts you will make.

Sometimes, the person you are trying to engage with may not be that forthcoming for all sorts of reasons. Don’t take it to heart. If the conversation really does run dry, move on politely (see last paragraph). Whatever happens, it’s all good experience.

 

Why bother?

Small talk is crucial in a business environment. We are social creatures, so a few easy chats to colleagues and work acquaintances always makes the day go faster.

It is a great way to build connections.  It is really important in large firms with a hot desking policy, where you are unlikely to be sitting next to the same people every day.

In lots of businesses it is crucial to our career success to build a network. These relationships develop over time and small talk is the starting point.

 

Conversation openers

It helps to have a few questions up your sleeve to help you feel more prepared. If it’s a client/networking event, try things like:

  • This is a good turnout, isn’t it? Is this usual?
  • How do you know … (the host)?
  • Where do you work?
  • How was the journey here/what’s your journey home like?
  • How often do you attend these events? How do they help you?

 

Golden rules

  • Ask open questions rather than ones that can be covered by a simple “yes” or “no”. The more the other person contributes to the conversation, the more information you will have to engage with.
  • Keep topics simple and uncontroversial. The weather is a trusted favourite. Also try sports, work, films, books, holidays (we should be so lucky!) etc. but avoid politics, religion, personal gossip, health.
  • Be genuine. Don’t ask whether someone saw the game last night if you have zero interest in football!
  • Leave natural pauses. You don’t have to ask all the questions. Small talk is as much about listening and then responding to what the other person is saying.
  • Don’t try to turn each conversation into a lengthy one. That puts too much pressure on and will make the conversation feel laboured and stilted.

 

Goodbye

When you feel it’s time to move on, have a couple of ways to end the conversation without awkwardness, for example:

  • Lovely chatting to you but I must go and find … (the host).
  • I’ve just spotted someone else I need to say hello to. Really good to talk to you.
  • I probably should go and mingle. Hope to see you again.

 

 

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