The content can be current chitchat; the role small talk plays, however, is far from minor.It’s an enormously important conversation starter and often determines if you want to keep talking – hence the opportunity to build a relationship – or make a quick escape.
Because the content may seem unimportant (let’s get right to the “what do you?” and “what can you do for me”), you may think it unnecessary to prepare ... and wing it. That works for the few people who can think succinctly on their feet and then articulate their thoughts fluently and effortlessly.
Gender differences in communication can also be small talk hazards. Men have three main topics in their small talk repertoire: sports, current events, business/jobs. Women have hundreds and since they disclose more about their personal lives they may run into a blank stare when they start with children and spouses.
1. Fill your small talk arsenal. Get up-to-date on current news through whatever vehicle you use and then form an opinion so you can discuss it. It’s fine if you have a divergent opinion so long as you listen to others’ and remain congenial.
2. Prepare a few questions based on the time of the year.
a. Current business news
b. Unusual weather
c. College/pro basketball/football/baseball/hockey games and standings
d. Movies and TV shows/ Oscar or Emmy nominees
e. Questions/comments about the sponsoring organization
It is generally advisable to steer clear of politics and religion.
3. Practice by yourself. Talk to yourself in the mirror and watch your expressions and gestures. Are they appropriate? Do they need honing? Don’t imitate the president who raised three fingers when he was discussing two items.
4. Practice with others. Try starting conversations with family, friends, clerks, neighbors, co-workers, wait staff, people in doctors’ waiting rooms, etc. Mentally record if you get the conversation started and if it goes in the direction you want.
5. Listen better. Use your two ears (and two eyes in person) and one mouth to your advantage. Remind yourself of the proportion as you glance in a mirror at an event ... in fact, every time you look in a mirror.
6. Look confident. You automatically appear to be more knowledgeable and someone others want to get to know.
a. Plant your feet.
b. Hold your head high.
c. Keep your shoulders back.
d. Put your chest out.
e. Hold your stomach in.
f. Make direct eye contact.
7. Observe and listen before joining a conversation in progress. Prepare your remarks and wait for an opening.
Lillian is a highly sought-after communication and business networking skills speaker, trainer, coach and author. The Chicago Tribune calls her a “networking expert,” and the Association Forum of Chicagoland dubs her “the business networking authority.” Her many products are essential components for excellence in networking and communication skills.
Lillian received the 2011 Wordsmith award from the National Speakers Association-Illinois Chapter and in 2010 was named Member of the Year. She was also named 2009 Outstanding Chicago Speaker by Red Carpet Concierge, a Great Women of the 21st Century and an Influential Woman in Business. Her book Breakthrough Networking: Building Relationships That Last, is in its third edition. She is a certified DiSC® trainer and a top graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Fortune 100 experience include 11 years at AT&T where she coached top executives in communication and media relations. To learn more, go to Duoforce.