When you go to a networking event, do you dread making small talk with strangers? Many find small talk to be awkward, meaningless, or tiresome – but the reality is, small talk is a very important component of making professional connections.
Although the topics discussed during small talk may not be directly related to business, small talk helps to build relationships. This leads to more meaningful discussions, lasting professional partnerships, and business deals. The habit of discussing business all the time is not a path to success – in fact, even in some professional situations it is inappropriate to address business affairs constantly.
Mastering the art of small talk, then, is key to enhancing your own professional presence. Here, we discuss a few starting points and elements of small talk – and opportunities for more practice.
What do I talk about?
Jumping into small talk can seem intimidating – especially if you can’t think of a topic of conversation other than the weather. If you don’t want to start with a cliché or mundane topic like the weather, where do you start?
- If you are at a national or international event, ask other participants about where they are based, what is interesting about their home city, or what they enjoy about the host city. This gives you a great starting point for further questions, such as great sights to see or questions about their company, instead of a dead-end topic like the weather.
- Conversely, if someone is from the same city as you, discuss what he or she enjoys about that place. This may allow you to find mutual connections and discuss possible opportunities to meet in your hometown.
- Ask questions about what other participants do for work and what they enjoy about it. This is not directly related to business affairs, as it simply allows others to expand upon their passions and interest. Again, you may find something in common with their interests, and this could lead to further discussion about where your companies align and could connect in the future.
- For further resources, see an article from the website Entrepreneur, which lends the simple yet valuable advice to “just ask questions” when making small talk. Fast Company also suggests five great questions to ask when engaging in small talk.
Small talk isn’t just about talking
Though it sounds counter-intuitive, small talk isn’t just about talking! It’s also about being open, inviting, and ready to engage – through body language and the ability to work a room.
- When at a networking event or cocktail party, refrain from staying in one corner of the room or only seeking out familiar faces. You will never make small talk if you refuse to approach others! Walk around the room – and be sure to check your posture, stance, and eye contact while doing so.
- With your body language, show that you are open to making new connections. Above all, smile! A friendly face invites introductions and conversation.
- Our previous blog post on Working A Room can provide you with even more tips on how to jump into a networking session with ease.
How do I learn more?
Small talk is a key component of the Interpersonal Communication Skills module in our upcoming Advanced Executive Presence Seminar for C-Suite Leaders. We are very excited to launch this two-day training on May 27 and 28, specifically designed for executives at the C-suite level and covering all seven modules of our Executive Presence training. If you are interested in mastering the art of small talk – and many more factors contributing to your Executive Presence – please contact us.