Most people dread it – small talk. The thought of starting a conversation with someone they don’t know makes many people anxious. They think, “what happens if they don’t like me? What do I say? What if there is a lull in the conversation? What if we run out of things to talk about?” They end up avoiding opportunities to talk to new people and instead don’t go to events or end up staring at their iphone in the corner of a bustling room. Sound familiar?
With work and social holiday parties right around the corner, sooner or later, you are more likely than not to encounter a person you don’t know and will be expected to engage in some sort of small talk. If you go into these situations with a negative mindset, you are setting yourself up to fail. Please. Don’t. Do. That.
Our advice? You need a more gracious and positive attitude. You also need to do a little prep work before you head out to the event.
By gracious, we mean to give yourself the kindness you often reserve for others. Acknowledge to yourself that it can be hard to strike up a conversation with a stranger. But you are interesting, interested and kind. And with a little bit of prep work, these small talk conversations can be opportunities to make new friends, new business connections and re-enforce your personal brand to others. And the more you engage in these conversations, the easier (and more enjoyable) they become.
Remind yourself, “small talk” is supposed to be easy, non-threatening – so politics, religion and serious health issues are off the table. Remember, you don’t even know this person so why would you talk about sensitive topics with them, in a festive party setting no less?
Small talk signals to others that you are good people. And you are good people! How do you signal you are worth talking too? With positive body language. Make sure you are approachable with a smile, open stance, eye contact, and good posture. You were invited – so act like it. No one is drawn to someone scowling in the corner with their arms crossed looking weary and dreary and a bit self-conscious.
It may seem fake to you but trust us, you will be so happy and relieved if you think of some conversation topics before the event. Yes, prepare for a social event. Just like you would a work event. Scan the day’s headlines, industry trades (if it is a work event), think of the latest book you read, podcast you listened too, movie you saw or opening you attended.
Also, the biggest secret to being a great conversationalist – ask questions. Focus on the person in front of you and act genuinely interested in their answers. Then ask follow-up questions. We’ve all suffered through conversations with bores whose idea of a fabulous conversation is a monologue, not a dialogue. By asking questions you ensure there is an ongoing dialogue.
Our last tip – don’t start the conversation with the question that is the title of this post. Ask how they know the host. That will give you a jumping off point for the next question.
And take heart, small talk is supposed to be just that – small. The conversations need only be 5-10 minutes long and then you can say your good-byes and meet someone else. Job well done!
Have a marvelous week - Catherine