Do you ever sit at a luncheon, surrounded by people in your industry, and find yourself stumped on what to talk about? I do. Or maybe you are at a reception with clients or co-workers, and you search for something interesting to say? It’s happened to me. For many of us, “small talk” is not our favorite thing – but we can get better at it!
Just like anything else worthwhile, getting better at social conversation takes some work, but before we offer the best ways to improve, let’s answer the question, is it really “worthwhile?” After all, we’re just talking about idle chatter, right? What’s the big deal? Well, we are often judged by more than just our work knowledge. When people ask, “What’s Barb or Bob like?” they are often asking, “What are they REALLY like?” People want to know you beyond the basics – and “small talk” provides a window into who you are as a person.
If you are still skeptical, think about people who you know to be self-absorbed or dull or witty or sweet. How did you come to that conclusion? Often, your opinion is formed based on everyday chats. That self-absorbed person always seems to turn the conversation back to him, no matter what. (“But enough about me, what do YOU think about me?”) Or the witty person always seems to bring a laugh to the day, even in the most unexpected situations. You’ve just seen the power of “small talk.”
Alright, so now it’s time to sharpen our chat skills, and there are some simple tricks. Here are a few to get you started:
Know the Event – have some working knowledge of where you are going and what this room of people care about. Do they all work in the same business, share the same hobby or believe in the same cause? Make a point of knowing something about what makes these people tick and you’ll never suffer an awkward silence because you’ll know what to say to get them started!
Know the Organizer – If you don’t know many people in the room, search out the person who put this together. First, thank them for their effort and then ask a few questions. That person will know others in the room and the next thing you know you are being introduced to a person or two by the Big Cheese!
Have some ready, current stories – Just read a great story in a trade journal? Saw a terrific profile on “60 Minutes’? There may be a place to drop in that story if you make a point of having something that this person or group of people likes.
Have an exit line – Not everyone you meet will be fascinating to you, so have a ready exit line or two.
Call it networking or cocktail chatter or “small talk” – you need to have the skill to create a more complete picture of who you are to those around you. Give it some thought and please know, I am right there with you when you struggle to figure out what to say to fill an uncomfortable silence!
Please follow along through the month @CaryPfeffer
Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting, www.clear-comm.net, a Scottsdale, AZ communications consulting firm that helps people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org