Would you prefer to insert a stick into your eye or make small talk with someone whose name you can’t recall at this moment? Those amazing peeps who feel UNcomfortable making conversation with people they don’t know that well, suffer from a form of stage fright. This type of stage fright affects brainy types of people who, frankly, would rather be reading a book or playing a video game than attend any networking event. (If this isn’t you, stop reading now.)
My first post-MBA job was working in the multinational division of a large bank in Caracas. It sounds more interesting that it was, sadly. My second job was working for an economic newsletter. That sounds boring but it turned out to fascinating! One of my tasks was to read the business section of 5 daily newspapers and condense the material into a weekly report. I transformed paragraphs into phrases. That task was all about getting to the essence of what was happening. I loved it!
However, this condensation of information strategy doesn’t translate well into a social context. If you meet someone and say, “Well, what’s your essence? Why are you here?”, you’re likely to *not* leave a stunning first impression.
The thing is, building relationships and engaging with people begins with “small talk,” a conversation genre typically disdained by introverts because they mistakenly equate it with having to think of lame things to say.
The thing is, interesting small talk leads to big talk and big talk creates customers, job offers and invitations to cool parties. And possibly marriage proposals.
The downside of making chit chat with perfect strangers is that a) you may feel uncomfortable or b) you may be bored. The discomfort is temporary and the potential upside is permanent. As far as boring conversations go, click here to read how to change the subject quickly and tactfully.
Think of small talk as a game.
If you’re good at connecting the dots between their interests and yours, you can become a Master of Small Talk (or MoST for short.)
You simply connect what the other person says with something you can say, even if it’s a request for more information, or sharing someone else’s experience with the topic, not your own.
If you can’t think of anything to say, simply repeat the last few words the other person said. I promise, they will continue to talk each time you do this! (Sounds weird, just try it!)
The other day I practiced this technique on my dad. He was going on about how this property recycled “clean waste”….and having no idea what to say next, I would simply repeat a phrase from his last sentence, like “clean waste?” After a second or two, he would continue with “Yes, clean waste of course….etc etc,” not noticing that my comments were simply repeating what he had said to me.
You can also help your conversation partner by giving more detailed answers to the usual questions like “Where are you from?” and “What do you do?”
If you’re lucky like me and live in a beautiful place like Charleston, I always let people know I’m from Charleston and ask if they’ve had the good fortune to visit. If you’re from another place, you can tell the person something scandalous or obscure-but-interesting about your town or city.
When asked what you do, please don’t give your job title. Most people probably don’t really know what it’s like to do what you do, or clearly understand your job.
Explain what you do by telling a little “representative anecdote” (aka a story) about it. Even if you have a clearcut job description, say you’re a pediatrician, tell the other person what your specialty is, or your special interest, or something new about your profession.
There are techniques for building engagement with other people through small talk. These have to do with eye contact, gesturing and your posture. If you start with the desire to get to know people and an arsenal of potential convo topics and stories, you’re well on your way to being a MoST*….or the life of the party!
*MoST: Master of Small Talk
P.S. Mixonian Institute promotes scandalously lame acronyms like MoST. It makes for good conversation fodder!