Whether you are hosting an event or attending one, small talk is a valuable and essential skill and it can be a difficult one to master.
This past week I attended a conference. I was one of over 1,000 attendees from all over the world. During the seminars, lunches, and networking events, we utilized whatever small talk skills we possessed to get to know one another and make valuable connections. Not everyone is comfortable speaking with strangers or even acquaintances but with these few tips, you can conquer the basics and feel comfortable and confident in any situation.
- Be prepared. Have a couple of interesting talking points in mind before you arrive. Keep in mind the occasion and the people, and if you aren’t sure where to begin, keep things general and discuss the event itself.
- Ask people about themselves. Not just yes or no questions, ask them about their interests and their experiences. If appropriate, ask about their careers (networking) and their families (a school or children’s event). And give them something in return; you want to develop a conversation not an interrogation.
- If you’re the host or you know several guests who haven’t met, introduce them to each other by name and point out something they have in common so they have a starting point for their conversation.
- Make a clean break. To leave a conversation, whether it has become a bit awkward or you simply need to greet another guest, cite a need and be polite. Using a phrase such as, “Please excuse me, I need to greet a colleague”.
I’m a naturally shy person but I’ve had a lot of practice at small talk and over time I’ve learned the most important trick: if you aren’t good at small talk, fake it – pretend that you are and you’re half way there.