Summer-time means socializing (which can also mean networking). And a big part of work-life is networking (which means being able to socialize, right?).
There’s just no way to avoid it: small talk, chitchat, shooting the breeze…. Whatever you call it, exchanging pleasantries with people you may not know is an essential part of connecting with other people in the business world (and in life). If you are at a networking event, the whole point is to make connections, right? Even if you are an extrovert and don’t mind making small talk, smoothly starting up a conversation and keeping it flowing requires some skill. Here are some ideas for how and where to effortlessly start up a conversation and how to keep it going:
Waiting in line at the bar or the the food table is a good time to chat up the person next to you. You already have something in common: you are both hungry or thirsty! Ask about the craft beer options, who does the catering, has the other person tried any of the food yet, etc. That can lead to further questions, and maybe even a very interesting conversation.
If you spot another “loner”, walk up and introduce yourself and ask a few questions. He or she may actually know more people in the room than you do, and the introductions can continue.
If you do see someone you know, go say hello (and reintroduce yourself if you don’t know each other that well.) Meet the people to whom he or she is talking.
What to Say
- “Hello” is a good start. Introduce yourself confidently and with a smile, and give a good handshake.
- Compliments are appreciated by everyone and are good ice-breakers. “You asked a good question during our last session.” “Your presentation was very informative.” “Those are cute shoes!”
- Ask a question. Something related to the event is a safe bet, like “Have you attended this conference before.” But the classics — “What do you do?” “Where are you from?” “Where did you go to school?” — are just fine, too.
- Keep the Conversation Going
- Ask “why” and “how” questions to get beyond just a one word answer. This also shows that you are genuinely interested in what he or she has to say.
Listening is key. Actually listen to what the other person says and frame your next question in relation to what has just been said.
- Share about yourself, as well. If you only ask questions, it will feel like an interrogation rather than a conversation. Add in relevant information about yourself and give some interesting details to spark the other person’s interest and keep the conversation flowing. Instead of just “I have an MBA, too.”, elaborate, “I tried Teach for America for a couple of years, but decided teaching wasn’t for me and went for my MBA. For the benefit of the youth of our country, I know I made the right decision!”
Small Talk DONT’S
- Don’t talk about your favorite topic — you may end up talking too much and making others feel left out
- Don’t talk for much more than 30 seconds without giving the other person a chance to speak. Studies who people start too lose interest after this point.
- Don’t used “closed off” body language — i.e. arms crossed, not smiling, leaning away from the other person, looking over the other person’s shoulder — uncross your arms, smile, lean in, make eye contact, give the other person your full attention.
- Don’t keep your phone out. Studies have shows that the mere presence of a phone negatively impacts the conversation. When a phone wasn’t in sight test subjects rated the conversation as having more substance and quality than when the same conversation occurred with a phone in sight.
- Don’t stay too long. The other person — and you — are both there to meet more people. Exit gracefully by introducing the other person to someone else, or asking for their card and suggesting you speak more in the future, or by making a return trip to the food line.
The best way to get better at small talk is to practice it. Don’t feel bad if it has it’s awkward moments. The fact that you are attempting to engage and be open to other new people, is what everyone else will remember.