Easing The Business Of Small Talk - August 31, 2017

Like many of you, I often attend networking sessions and business dinners. Now, I've always considered myself to be a fairly social person, but the one thing that makes me uncomfortable is small talk with a stranger or new acquaintance. It just doesn't come naturally to me. Rather than listening and engaging in what the other person is saying, I'm too busy trying to think of the next thing to say.

In this issue of Promotional Consultant Today, we share these simple tips for easy small talk from Shana Lebowitz, business strategy reporter for Business Insider. Whether you are networking or socializing, try them out on your colleagues and customers.

1. Demonstrate interest in your conversation partner. The best way to keep a conversation rolling is to show you care about what the other person has to say. If you don't care about what the other person is saying, it becomes obvious, and the conversation will come to a screeching halt. To show your interest, allow the other person to share information about himself or herself, even if it means they talk more than you do.

2. Ask open-ended questions. Instead of asking yes/no questions that lead to a dead end, encourage your conversation partner to share more detail about his or her life. This can lead to more conversation topics. For example, instead of asking a fellow party guest, "Are you here with your family?" you might ask, "How did you meet the host?"

3. Allow your conversation partner to teach you. If you aren't familiar with a topic that the other person brings up, then let them know. Chances are they will take the opportunity to teach you. For example, at a recent dinner, my customer began to talk about his interest in bourbon. When I explained that I didn't know about bourbons, he began to explain some of the things he's learned through his hobby. It goes back to that central idea of letting other people do most of the talking. Asking the other person to explain means they'll be talking for at least another few minutes.

4. Read the news. Take time to peruse the news before your next networking event or business dinner. That way, if a conversation should come to an abrupt halt, you can fill the silence with, "Hey, did you hear about …"

5. Practice the FORM technique to keep the conversation flowing:

  • F-amily: Do you have kids? Where is your family from? How long have you lived around here?
  • O-ccupation: What do you do for a living? What is that like?
  • R-ecreation: What do you do for fun? How long have you been involved in your hobby?
  • M-oney: What happened with the price of gas? Did you see that last school bond issue?

6. Be honest. There's nothing wrong with admitting to your conversation partner that you hate small talk, and suggest a "big" topic to talk about. You might find that the other person is both surprised and relieved to hear your revelation. Have a few key topics on hand to throw out as potential conversation starters, such as "Are you happy with your current job role?" "What's something on your bucket list that you want to try or accomplish in the next five years?

Try these simple tips and allow the conversation to flow.

Source: Shana Lebowitz is a strategy reporter forBusiness Insider. Before joining Business Insider in April 2015, she covered mental health for Greatist and personal finance for LearnVest. Shana studied English and psychology at Brandeis University and received her master's degree in English literature from Columbia University.

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