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The art of small talk

Added: 18/07/13

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Whether you are attending an event, meeting clients for the first time or are a new starter in a job, small talk is an essential icebreaker. And it is much more than asking about the weather.

When it comes to networking, small talk is essential. If you are attending an event, sitting in the corner on your own is not an option and certainly does not foster the right impression.

This is where small talk plays such a pivotal role, particularly when meeting people for the first time. From conferences and events, to meeting other suppliers and new clients for the first time, mastering small talk will help you find common ground to create a bond with who you are talking to. Getting small talk right is often a pre-cursor the more important, follow-up business discussion – the ‘big talk’, or so to speak.

Small talk does not have to be some intimidating thing that you dread every time you attend an event: mastering the simple things can make all the difference.  Read our checklist below on mastering the art of small talk:

1. The purpose of small talk

The secret of small talk is keeping it simple. The aim is not to launch into a full-blown business conversation or sales pitch straight away – it is to establish enough common ground to determine a reason to connect again. Small talk can be quite dull at times – so be enthusiastic, lively and ask plenty of questions. Let them do the talking and focus on stimulating questions which provoke response and help you glean any relevant information for a future meeting or discussion.

2. Conquering the icebreaker dilemma

With small talk, the aim is to find common ground over non-work related subjects. A few simple questions can work wonders here and avoid any potential awkwardness and conversation gaps. Something simple such as asking where they came from and how their journey was can spark a conversation about their life and family. If you are attending an event, strike up a conversation around the topic and their thoughts.

It is well worth having a list of five ‘safe’ topics at the back of your mind – covering anything from sports to current events and industry trends – you can always refer to these when the conversation is turning a little stale.

Doing your homework about the person also helps here – if you are going to an event or conference, research attendees before – you may have mutual friends or connections that you can utilise to start a conversation.

3. Be personal and open

Small talk is not about having earth-shattering and meaningful discussions about business, it is about developing that initial bond between you and a complete stranger. This is why you have to make the conversation interesting and steer it throughout. If you show enthusiasm, smile and focus on creating a good impression, then it will pay dividends when you reach out to the person after the event.

This can easily be covered by sharing something personal about yourself. For example, if you are just returned or about to embark on a holiday, share this and ask if they like to travel or have been anywhere of note recently. This is all about creating a good impression and identifying where the common ground is between you and the person you are speaking to.

In addition to having the ability to make small talk, you also need to know how to introduce yourself effectively and succinctly. Read our guide on creating the ultimate elevator pitch

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