Success to Small Talk

Whatever it is, it’s on your calendar. You’re invited to o a company party, a networking event, a friend’s wedding, or a community group outing. Maybe events like these, the ones that require small talk, bring more anxiety than excitement. But they are all great chances to meet new people, right? You think, I won’t know anyone there. I really should go but I don’t want to. I hate small talk.

Small talk has earned a bad rap, because it usually represents meaningless and trivial conversation. But it doesn’t have to be that way.But real conversations are harder with people we don’t know. These tips can help take the stress out of small talk and create a quality conversation:

Get your mind right.

If you spend the week anticipating and worrying because you know you will feel uncomfortable, you’ve set yourself up for failure. Remember why you are going -to celebrate a friend, to meet others who share your interests or connect with fellow business owners.

Decide who you want to meet.

Take a look at who else will be there and plan to meet those who might share something in common. This might be someone who knows a mutual friend, a fellow sports fan or a business owner living your dream.

Make it a game.

Trick your mind into making it seem easier and more fun. Commit to at least an hour. Plan to meet at least five people.Challenge yourself to learn two things. This mind shift can help tame the anxiety and make the conversation more fun.

Take responsibility to meet others.

Don’t wait for others to approach you. Say hello first. When you expect others to make the first move, you’ll be disappointed. And the more you do it, the more comfortable you’ll be.

 “Quiet people have the loudest minds.” Stephen Hawking

Don’t be the sidekick.

Rather than being the shadow of the one person you already know, branch out. Meet others on your own.

Have “go-to” questions.

Starting a conversation with a new person can be hard. Try, “How do you know Peter?” “What is keeping you busy these days?” or “What brought you to this area of business?” It doesn’t have to be complicated, just something to get you started if you you’re new acquaintances.

Listen more than you talk.

Asking questions is the secret ingredient to interesting conversations. Stay away from yes/no questions. Ask open-ended questions. You can naturally start with easy questions that feel natural, but listen for an interesting comment to explore and build upon.

As an example for how your questions might flow:

  • How do you know Allison?
  • I didn’t realize you were a graphic designer. What kind of design do you do?
  • Why did you decide to get into graphic design?
  • I went to school inToronto, too! Where are your favorite places to go?
  • Do you think of Waterloo as home? How did you make the move there?

 Within a few questions, you can move to more substance and a real conversation.

“Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalizing.”William S. Boroughs

Be yourself.

No one likes the fake networker. In the interest of being more outgoing, don’t be someone you aren’t. Putting out effort doesn’t mean being fake.

Compliment and shift.

Find something that you can genuinely compliment the other person on and then shift to a question so it isn’t awkward. Everyone loves a nice complement.

Plan a graceful exit.

Every conversation runs its course, but a natural end is hard. Just say, “It’s been great to meet you, and I hope you have the best vacation next week.” Excuse yourself to do something else and move on.

Look for others wanting to connect.

I recently went to a large event to celebrate a fellow small business owners success and only knew the host. I noticed another guest taking their time at the snack table and introduced myself. We had a great conversation while those around us caught up with longtime friends.

Be an introducer.

If you are talking with someone and another guest looks a little uncomfortable, invite him or her into the conversation. Remember the times when you were that uncomfortable person and try to include others.

 Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.Eleanor Roosevelt

Don’t be a “hammer looking for a nail.”

Your favorite topic isn’t everyone else’s. You might love your new hobby or your business mentor or book, but don’t assume everyone else is interested. Gauge the conversation and flow with it.

Don’t expect too much.

Not every get-together will result in new connections. That’s OK. You still accomplished your goal of going when it was easier not to - you were there supporting a friend or a business colleague. And that is enough.

Get in the habit.

Don’t constrain this habit to social events. Say hello to the person next to you on the plane before you grab your headphones. Talk to your waiter. Ask your Uber driver about his day. The habit of saying hello and listening is a muscle you can develop by working on it every day.

Try some small talk. It’s a very useful and necessary small business skill. Creating conversations and new relationships perpetuates new business prospects or establishes important centres of influence. You might be surprised where it takes you. Its all part of Keeping Life Current with your small business.

Steve is the SBCN Community Mentor and can be reached at