For some of us, making small talk is not only easy, but enjoyable. For others, it’s a torturous experience preferably avoided at all costs. Unfortunately for those in the latter camp, it is extremely important that you master the art of making small talk.
The good news is making small talk is a skill that can be mastered. You may be thinking, "Do I really need to be able to make small talk? Isn’t giving a killer presentation enough?" In reality, I’ve spent infinitely more time making small talk than making formal pitches.
There are opportunities to introduce yourself at every turn, whether you’re in the hallway or an elevator or waiting for a meeting to begin. Making the most of these opportunities will help grow your business. Making good small talk will also strengthen the professional relationships you already have.
Try this: When you walk into a room full of people you don’t know, find someone who is alone. Walk up to him or her with a pleasant smile on your face, say hello and introduce yourself. Stand close enough to clearly hear what he or she says.
It’s very important that you smile! Smiling puts everyone at ease. When someone smiles, others smile back almost automatically.
The art of small talk is all about finding common ground. Obviously, this is easier to do with some people than others, but I firmly believe it’s possible to do with everyone. We’re all human, after all.
It helps to be prepared beforehand though, so make the effort to read the news. What’s happening in the world? Stay away from controversial topics -- that means no politics or religion. Regardless, it’s more important to focus on making eye contact and listening closely. If you need to step closer to hear someone, do so.
People love to talk about themselves. Where are they from? That’s a great, first neutral question. (Some questions are more easily answered than others, after all.) Don’t get too personal. If you give people the chance to talk about themselves, they will love you.
Commenting on something you can both see from wherever you’re standing is a good start. Of course, if all else fails, flattery is a sure-fire conversation starter, but be sure to be genuine.
People can be very insecure, so it’s your job to put them at ease. The best way to do that is with your body language. Angle your body towards the person you’re speaking to, but don’t invade their personal space. Do not let your gaze wander, be it to someone else in the room or your phone.
Good conversationalists make the person they are speaking to feel like the only person in the room. It’s also important that you feel confident, so dress your best.
When you become comfortable enough engaging strangers one on one, you should try approaching a group of three or four people. When I do this, I make sure to introduce myself with a firm handshake and eye contact, but then I hang back. I don’t jump in until I know what’s being discussed, and only if I have something to contribute. Nodding in agreement can be enough.
Only when it feels right should you jump into a conversation. If you cannot add value to the discussion, don’t. Asking someone to explain something further can be a good way to establish your presence and interest in the conversation.
If you force yourself to start making small talk wherever you go -- be it the grocery store or on public transit -- you will be amazed at how quickly you will become better at it. I find making small talk to be very empowering.
I am constantly reminded of how much I have in common with others. I’ve built strong, long-lasting businesses relationships because I was brave enough to engage the people around me. I was curious about them. Why wouldn’t I be? I ask the vendors and manufacturers I work with about their families and what’s going on in their lives, and they remember that.
That’s really the crux of why you should want to become more comfortable making small talk. I’ve not only met interesting people and future business partners by making small talk -- I’ve strengthened the businesses relationships I already had. I’ve turned acquaintances into friends this way. As entrepreneurs, we can use all the allies we can get.
People want to do business with people they like. Give people the opportunity to get to know you. It’s as simple as that.
Small talk is absolutely worth making time for.
Related: The Art of Small Talk for Business