The concept of “small talk” makes many people nervous. Their biggest fear about going to an event is often that they won’t have anything to talk about.  I’ve always felt one of the best things you can do at a networking function, cocktail party, or reception is to LISTEN. You can learn so much about the other person and their work, but also discover their passions, values, and motivators when you are sincerely curious about them.

BUT, when the conversation rolls around to you – or when there’s that awkward lull – can you jump in with something that will keep it chugging along? You can, when you’ve done some preparation and come with your Give/Get List firmly in mind. I first learned of this trick from the book, “Make Your Contacts Count” by Anne Baber & Lynne Waymon, which is loaded with lots of good networking tips.

Here’s what they suggest. Before any event, make a list of 5 things you have to Give and 5 things you’d like to Get. Let’s focus on Giving first. Giving to others is a quick way to build a network because, what will they want to do in return? Give back to you two-fold!  As Zig Ziglar says, “You can have everything you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.” So, take a few minutes right now to think of what you have to offer: resources, opportunities, expertise, introductions?

One person I coached realized he could:

  • recommend a great new design blog
  • offer expertise on housebreaking puppies
  • alert others to a new job opening
  • share tips on filling out grant applications
  • recommend a new “meetup” group

He could have gone on and on, because there is really no limit to the topics you could talk about. The problem is there are too many!

Now to the Get list. Think about the problems you want to solve, the things you want to learn, the opportunities you’re seeking. My same client decided he’d like to find:

  • A graphic designer
  • New sushi restaurants
  • A presentation skills coach
  • Management book recommendations
  • Discount office furniture

If you prepare a Give/Get list before a function, you’ll find that you actually look forward to small talk. Networking will transcend being a chore, a bore, or scary. It will become an fun process of search and discovery!