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Imagine walking into a room and striking up a conversation with someone, only to find the talk is stilted or — worse — boring to the point of being painful. You find yourself wishing you could just hit the eject button and escape from the conversation, but while you know you could cut your losses, you also know that that’s not always going to be an option: You have to be able to establish, and maintain, relationships if you want to succeed.
While a good number of people may not like making small talk, the act of getting to know someone doesn’t have to feel ejection-button worthy. In fact, learning a few secrets for handling small talk can make all the difference.
Strong business relationships are often founded on the ability to communicate and earn trust. Knowing what kinds of questions or approaches can better build interest, or leave a more favorable impression of yourself, can go a long way to being able to leave a conversation having learned something about the world, profession or the person you spoke with. Start off on the right foot with these eight approaches for how to make small talk worthwhile, as recommended by members of Young Entrepreneur Council.
1. Express Genuine Interest
When engaging in small talk, I first make it a point to repeat the person’s name back to them. I’ve heard that the most attractive word in the English language is a person’s own name, so it’s important not only to remember someone’s name, but also to use it throughout a conversation. In fact, I personally recall times when acquaintances have remembered my name and personally addressed me, and it always strikes me as such a positive. When engaging in small talk, I want to impart the same feelings to those I speak with. I also make sure to ask the other person about themselves — this keeps a conversation flowing, engages the other person and helps me learn in the process. Expressing genuine attention and interest in others help build relationships of trust and rapport. – Stephen Beach, Craft Impact Marketing
2. Find Common Ground
Some people are better at small talk and networking than others. I think there are a few things you can do to improve this skill if it isn’t your strong suit. If you know the person you will be meeting, do a little research and try to find common ground before you meet. Maybe you went to the same college or like the same music. If the chat is on the fly, stick to topics you genuinely care about but that are universal — family, new movies, local restaurants, etc. Connect on something personal before talking business. If you can, it’s always great to share something lighthearted but personal about yourself first. It creates trust and camaraderie. If you have a comedic or charismatic personality, let that shine through! People like to do business with people they like and can engage with. – Jennifer Buonantony, Press Pass LA and PPLA Social + PR
3. Smile And Nod
While this may sound like a joke, the simple act of smiling and nodding throughout a small talk situation affirms the other person and shows that you’re engaged. You may not always be engaged, as many people don’t care for small talk, but it gives the appearance that you’re into it. This especially works well in loud settings like bars, clubs or networking events. Just make sure you’re hearing and retaining key parts of info as to not get caught off guard and appear disingenuous. Even if you are missing part of the conversation, it’s not terribly offensive to just ask them to repeat themselves. This works in business settings along with personal relationships, as well. – Joel Mathew, Fortress Consulting
4. Call Them By Name And Ask Questions
I love communicating with people so I never really have to make any effort to handle small talk. But we are all different: Some are more outgoing and extroverted while others are less open to conversations. Having a small talk with some people is easier than with others, but the things that always come to my rescue are calling a person by their name and asking questions about them (but nothing too personal). This strategy works really well most of the time because we are all selfish by nature. We love talking about ourselves and we enjoy hearing the sound of our name. Just combine those two little tricks and you’ll gracefully handle every small talk and be remembered by others as a very nice and interesting guy (even if you don’t say a word about yourself). – Solomon Thimothy, OneIMS
5. Practice More
Small talk can be anxiety provoking for many of us. You’re around new people and want to make a good impression but know nothing about them to find common ground. Before you enter the situation take a few minutes to write down and memorize a few standard questions that could apply to most anybody you may meet. How long have you been with your current company or job? Have you always lived in the area? Something neutral that anybody can answer. Have a couple of anecdotes about yourself to throw in so you’re not just asking them questions. This may also spark questions from them and help you find common interests that will make the conversation proceed easier. Stay away from the go-to conversations on weather, politics or the news. This can make people feel you’re uninterested in them. – Jeff Pitta, Senior Market Advisors
6. Don’t Worry About Being Impressive
Let’s start with the good news: People often prefer likable people over competent people. So, you don’t need to worry too much about sounding smart during small talk. A little likability goes a long way. Specifically, a person can successfully handle small talk by doing two things: one, give honest compliments and, two, ask for advice. Offering honest compliments may not be easy to someone you may not initially like, but try to look for anything to compliment (just try not to sound creepy). Secondly, asking for advice shows you respect the other person’s opinion and it encourages them to open up. I have found that asking for advice makes a person feel better about both themselves and about the person asking, which usually guarantees a successful (and fun) conversation. – Shu Saito, Godai Soaps
7. Have Go-To Topics
Small talk can be tricky even if you aren’t an extrovert; people get tired, have bad days and the last thing you might feel like doing is to chit chat. To battle these types of situations I have go-to “small talk” topics that I routinely fall back on. For me that’s the weather, a current popular pop culture event (movie opening, award show winners, etc) and finally, travel. I shape questions and conversations around these three areas: “Got any trips coming up?” “Did you see the new Matt Damon movie?” or “Can you believe we still aren’t out of winter yet?” These topics are universal, easy for anyone to pick up and chime in on and opens up a friendly, easy dialogue! – Kim Kaupe, The Superfan Company
8. Start With A Compliment
Humans invariably respond positively to praise. A compliment lightens the mood and sets the ideal stage for conversation. This strategy works well for both formal as well as informal settings but make sure your words are genuine and your body language positive. Even the most reserved and introverted people respond positively when complimented. Once you have got the conversation going, pay attention to what the speaker has to say. Ask questions to keep the talk going and find a common ground so that they relate better to you. Small talk becomes effortless when you are genuinely interested in having a conversation with the other person. Being friendly, approachable and open are important factors for participating in talks that transform into engaging conversations. Don’t forget to smile. – Rahul Varshneya, Benchpoint
April 9, 2019 at 09:00AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs