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One Step to Making Small Talk

Jun 11, 2008
Just the thought of small talk congers up painful memories of stilted conversations that revolved around the weather and umpteen other dreadfully boring topics. While small talk is engaging in non-personal conversation that is casual, light and "safe" - meaning that the topics are of general interest and are not offensive - it doesn't have to set off rounds of yawn-tag and constant clock watching.

Fortunately, the key to making good small talk is simple: be interested in other people.

Having a sincere interest in another is the best starting point when first engaging in conversation - it's also the basis on which to build and maintain good relationships. We create better first impressions, increase our chances of being remembered, and make friends quicker when we're focusing our attention on others rather than trying to get them to focus on us. Being interested in someone else involves asking them questions about themselves and actively listening to their answers.

Be a "big-listener" not a "small-talker."
Generally, we all have visions of impressing others with our insights, philosophies, and sharp wit. We want to be the centre of attention by being the one answering questions, not the one asking them. The good "small-talker" knows, however, that her role is to be the listener not the talker.

So - how do you implement this one-easy-step-to-making-small-talk? Well...

Ask Questions
Begin small talk by asking the other person questions about himself - his opinions, work or activities. Keep your questions open-ended, as opposed to "yes/no" questions, listen to his responses and build the conversation on those. Asking open-ended questions creates a dialogue and helps you get to know the other person. Also, if you begin the conversation in a way that's relevant to the situation in which you're meeting, you'll have a common starting point.

For example, if you first meet someone at business luncheon, you could ask: "Have you been to one of these events before?" If he says "yes," then ask questions like: "When?" "Was there a guest speaker?" "What was the topic?" If he says "no," ask questions such as: "How did you hear about this one?" "What do you think about the guest speaker?" Listen to his responses and build the conversation by balancing your questions with brief comments.

Topics for Discussion
Keep up on popular current events, local news, or sports and use them for conversation starters: "What do you think about...?" or "What are your thoughts on...?"

Additional topics for discussion can include the profession or recreational interests of the person your speaking with. Ask questions, listen to his answers and build a conversation around them. If you have tidbits of information or a story that's related to the topic, contribute it to the discussion, but keep your focus on the other person.

A Compliment as an Ice Breaker
Another approach to small talk is to compliment the other person. Notice the person you'd like to speak with and find something you like. It can be as simple as saying, "What a beautiful watch. You have such good taste." Then you could follow it up with questions regarding how they got it, such as, "Where is it from?" Perhaps it was from the local art gallery gift shop, you could then ask, "Oh - what exhibit did you see?" "What did you think of it?"

By giving a compliment, you're showing that you're friendly and approachable and it creates an instant rapport. The reaction you'll receive is usually one that's very positive and appreciative.

Joking Around
Have a few good jokes up your sleeve. "Good" jokes are those that are humourous and without offensive content. Stay away from the "three professionals, religious leaders or politicians walked into a bar" jokes - they're derogatory and insulting. There are lots of good, clean jokes that can easily be found on the internet and you only need to know two or three.

As a general rule of thumb, stay away from gossip, criticism, sarcasm and negative comments. You don't want to offend someone accidentally - or on purpose, for that matter - by off-the-cuff thoughtless remarks.

But Always...
Be interested in others: ask questions and be a good listener.
About the Author
Laurie Wilhelm is the author of Express Yourself to Success. This website and eGuides are designed to help you achieve success faster by using strong verbal communications skills. Achieve your success by working with others using improved social and interpersonal skills, public speaking, networking, negotiation, and conflict resolution. Find out how you can boost your career by going to www.expressyourselftosuccess.com.
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