Learning The Art of Small Talk

No one particularly likes making small talk.  It can be perceived as dull or intrusive or disingenuous. The important thing to remember about small talk is that the only way to get to the deeper, more interesting conversation, is to first wade through the business talk.

Small talk serves many functions.  It helps establish commonalities between you and the person you are meeting.  It helps break the ice and ease the tension. It gives you something to do. It almost always leads to richer experiences at future events or the next time you meet the person.

I have often been accused of being good at small talk.  I can chat up anyone about almost anything and it has led me to meeting some very interesting people and perhaps even having a few adventures. It does not always lead somewhere, but the sooner you accept that it is important and learn how to do it—the faster it can help you learn and grow, meet people and have a few adventures yourself.

Here are some tips for the next time you are in a room full of strangers or at a business networking event.

  1. Everyone loves to talk about themselves. You will never go wrong if you ask someone what they do for a living and then ask questions about how they like their job or how they do their job. There are a lot of interesting jobs out there.
  2. Ask someone where they are from. It is easy to find commonalities when you know someone’s hometown. There are sports teams and local happenings and you might know someone else from there.
  3. Pull in a third person. This can keep the conversation going but take the pressure off one person for a while. An extra opinion or set of ideas might spark an interesting discussion.
  4. Listen, listen, listen. Never be too quick to talk about yourself.  You might learn something about a job opportunity, a person you would like to know more about or an industry you never considered. Ask questions.
  5. Stay away from discussions of politics or religion unless you are at a political gathering or a religious gathering.
  6. Limit your alcohol intake and try to eat before an event. It is hard to make small talk when you have food in your mouth.
  7. Keep your business card in your pocket. If you feel like the steam has run out of your conversation and you need to move on, simply say, it has been a pleasure getting to know you. Here is my card, please let me know if I can ever help you. I’d like to connect with you on linked in.

Practice: Write a few questions on the notepad on your phone for the next time you need to mingle and make small talk. Remember to refer to it. Contact an alumnus through the Walter Center Success Network, ask them how they make small talk at business gatherings. You might get more good tips!

Good luck.  I hope you’ll meet some interesting people!

By Amy Cornell
Amy Cornell Senior Associate Director, Alumni Engagement Amy Cornell