6 Secrets of Successful Small Talk

secrets to small talkThose who are at ease conversationally have the ability to connect with others which builds rapport which can turn into relationships which can translate into business.  Becoming successful at small talk can increase your value to our organization and help you get ahead.

1.They’re not afraid to engage in small talk.

As the old adage says, “The dog that trots about finds the bone.” Small talk pros arrive ready to engage and play their part. They know great conversations can develop as the result of the simplest comments about the food or weather. A genuine compliment about the other person can also be an excellent opener (“Great tie.”).  A comment about a non-controversial current event can also break the ice, as well as a remark about the event you’re at presently (“What brought you here this evening?”  “How long have you been involved with this organization?”). If they see a casual acquaintance, they reintroduce themselves, remind them where they met before and continue with something like, “How has your year been?” or “Catch me up on what you’ve been doing.” 

2. They listen really well.

Most of us don’t really listen, we stand there formulating what we’re going to say next. Great small talkers stay tuned in and focus whole-body on the speaker. They’re able to screen out distractions, like fatigue, noise, and daydreaming, and are patient as the speaker communicates their thoughts. There’s no question listening is a challenge as the average person talks at about 225 words/minute and we can listen at up to 500 words/minute. But the pros know that where the eyes look, the ears will follow. A bit of encouragement—nods, smiles, “that’s really interesting”—can be helpful to both parties.

3. They’re seriously curious.

If common ground can be found, you’ve created instant rapport. Great small talkers ask questions in an effort to find that ground and advance the conversation. They believe the goal is to be more interested than interesting. Having a natural curiosity and asking the basic “wh” questions will yield interesting results. “Who did you work with in that department? What brought you here today? When did you start your business? Where are you from originally? Why did you decide to join this organization?”

4. They have a life.

Small Talk pros aren’t couch potatoes. They have hobbies, take classes, go to museums, new restaurants, and movies. They’re well-read, and not just with the latest business best-sellers. They’re informed on a variety of topics and can spark interesting conversations by lobbing ideas and stories from other fields into the mix. In other words, great small talkers are actively involved in having a life outside of work. If you feel like you don’t have anything to talk about, it’s time to take action and try something new!

5. They orchestrate the small talk conversation.

The best small talkers don’t monopolize the conversation, they orchestrate it. They answer questions with something more than just a single word. For example, answering “What kind of movies do you like?” with “Dramas” will shut the conversation down. Instead try: “My favorites are dramas. In fact, I just saw a great classic for the first time—Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Quite a commentary on society, I thought. What are your favorites?”  Pros are also adept at making sure all are included in the conversation. “Mary, any new trends in your industry, something we should all keep an eye out for?”

6. They disengage from small talk gracefully.

No one wants to feel “stuck” with someone. Just the thought of that is enough to keep people from making small talk in the first place. The pros make use of magic phrases to gracefully make their exit. “I’ve really enjoyed talking with you, but (Magic Phrase) I don’t want to monopolize you.  Can I give you a call next week?” Or (Magic Phrase) “I’m sure there are others here you’d like to meet.  It was great learning about what you do at Acme. I hope you enjoy the party.” If they don’t want to leave their partner stranded, they’ll ask for an introduction – “Do you know anyone here who…” Or introduce them to someone they should know – “Oh, there’s Barry. He’d be a good one to answer your question about…” Or they take them along – “The line’s dwindled at the bar. Let’s refill our drinks”.

Great small talkers aren’t always born that way. Small talk is a skill that can be learned. Brush up on the pro’s tricks-of-the-trade and you can be a sparkling conversationalist, too! Learn how you can develop that skills and all the facets of Executive Presence.

© 2016 Jill Bremer