Turning small talk on its head!
Having worked in recruitment and career coaching for so long, I have lost count how many networking events I’ve attended over the years. Whilst I’m an extravert by nature and enjoy meeting new people, like many others, I still find small talk awkward. I’ve had clients who would do anything to avoid a situation where they would have to make small talk.
Why is this the case? Are we scared to have real and meaningful conversations with people we have just met?
Lets start by defining small talk. When you google it, here’s what comes up:
“small talk. Noun. polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially as engaged in on social occasions.”
How unappealing does this sound? Who wants to have a conversation about unimportant, or uncontroversial matters? Boring! Yawn.
Surely, it doesn’t need to be this painful. So, what’s the solution?
For starters, we need to change the way we think about small talk. Try not to fall into the ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ trap; ie. If you tell yourself “I hate small talk”, or “what a waste of time”, then this will be your experience.
Small talk doesn’t have to be superficial. Why not see it as an opportunity to build the foundation for authentic conversations and deeper connections down the road? This way, it serves a purpose.
Here’s a few tips to ease the pain of small talk and make it a far more enjoyable experience:
- Be yourself
This immediately takes the pressure off. There’s no rule that says you need to act a certain way around certain people. Push the boundaries and show your true colours, both in how you present and what you discuss.
- Ask interesting Questions
If you’re at a professional networking event, rather then sticking to the safe topics like the weather, the footy, or how the person knows the host, perhaps, ask them something like:
‘’What inspired you to chose your profession?”,
‘’What are your biggest challenges at work right now?”, or
“What’s your favourite phone app right now & why?”
You never know where these conversations will go and at the very least, you may get some tips out of it!
A typical study points out that many of us spend 70 to 80 percent of our waking hours in some form of communication. Of that time, we spend about 9 percent writing, 16 percent reading, 30 percent speaking, and 45 percent listening. Studies also confirm that most of us are poor and inefficient listeners. When the idea of talking about yourself is too daunting, make the conversation about the other person by asking questions and listening. Most people love talking about themselves. However, be prepared to answer any questions they may have about you when the tables turn.
- Arrange next phase
Remember, small talk is best utilised to set up a more meaningful encounter with the person. Once a mutual connection is established and you’ve genuinely enjoyed talking to the individual, set up the next encounter. Rather than just exchange business cards without an explanation, say something like “I really enjoyed talking to you about where you see the recruitment industry is heading and I hope we can continue the conversation sometime soon.”
Remember, like anything, its small steps. Perhaps stretch yourself at the next event by having a number in mind of how many new people you’d like to initiate conversations with. If you’ve attended the event with someone, make a pact to not stick together and try to ‘work the room’. It’s about quality, not quantity. You’re better off having three meaningful discussions where you may choose to stay in touch with one, over collecting 20 business cards that will amount to nothing!
Like anything in life, it gets easier with practice. I still don’t love going to these events, but I know they are necessary for my work and by implementing these strategies, I can tolerate them and sometimes even manage to enjoy myself!