Small talk can be awkward and seem disingenuous, but it is a necessary component to a successful career. In a study that followed MBA recipients 10 years after graduation, Stanford University found that the ability to converse with others had a greater impact on future careers than GPA.
Having Confidence Goes a Long Way
The very basis of small talk is having confidence, or at least giving the illusion of confidence. Simply starting a dialogue can open many doors, as well as maintain current relationships. A small conversation can spark new opportunities or help you gain new perspective and knowledge.
Building Your Confidence
It is essential to be able to step outside of your comfort zone, such as reaching out to someone you normally wouldn’t. Become a good listener; go to events and try to just listen to what people are saying. Take notes on some of the topics you find most related to your area of interest. Create a calendar of events to attend; not all have to be business related, for example, charity events, events around school, and so forth. Try to immerse yourself in the culture to the best of your ability; this will help gain the self-assurance to achieve the next step.
Start a Conversation
Notice your surroundings and choose a topic of discussion accordingly. Safe topics include sports, weather, travel, work, television and movies. Greet your conversation prospect first and introduce yourself. A compliment is an easy, powerful tool to start a conversation because it opens people up and reduces anxiety. Taking initiative to spark a discussion shows interest.
Maintaining the Conversation
Make sure to ask open-ended questions to avoid simple yes or no answers. For example, use “what’s the best way to…” and “how would you…” to begin a question. Open-ended questions get better responses to build on for further conversation because they require some personal reflection. If your peer is from another country use this to your advantage: ask about where they are from. If you have never been there ask them for more information. Not only are you engaging them in conversation, you are learning about new regions.
Be sure to pay attention and remain engaged when they respond. Stay away from controversial topics like politics and religion. Also, try to avoid topics that you may not know about. Focus heavily on remembering names and repeating them in conversation to establish a real relationship.
Small talk is an art and takes practice, but with time and confidence you can master it.
For more information on small talk, check out Dr. Carol Flemming’s book The Serious Business of Small Talk, Debra Fine’s Book The Fine Art of Small Talk and the Stanford University Study.
In addition, be sure to attend the Small Talk workshop to take place at Carey’s DC campus this fall. To register, log into your Carey Compass account.