All too often, people in the professional world think of small talk as a waste of time: Why chat about the weather when you could be getting down to business?
However, the ability to connect with others and discuss non-work related topics can be essential to your career and greatly improve your networking ability.
The Stanford University School of Business conducted a study that tracked MBA students ten years after graduation to determine different factors that may affect the success and found that one of the most important keys to success was the ability to converse well with others. Making small talk allows you to connect with others on a more human level, helping to forge a deeper professional relationship. The best small talk is friendly, open, and unaffected while still remaining professional.
One way to improve your small talk is through simple preparation. Take some time to prepare some generic small talk questions that you can rely on if you find yourself needing to make small talk on the spot. If you are going to an event, think of questions that may specifically be geared to that group or event. Consider the type of business most attendees are a part of, where they are from, and what their interests may be. Some classic conversation starters are:
- “What business/industry are you in?”
- “How did you get into (industry/business)?”
- “Have you been to (current city) before?”
- “What do you think of (hotel, city, food, etc.)?”
If you find yourself at a loss for what to say, run through the “W”s in your mind: “who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, “why”, (and “how”). Usually, you can spark a conversation by utilizing a basic, open-ended question with one of these words. For example: “Who do you know here?”, “When was the last time you visited New York?”, “How long have you known so-and-so?”.
If the conversation feels like it’s coming to a natural close, know when to walk away. Rather than force the conversation, politely excuse yourself. Make your exit as graceful and natural as possible. Saying that you need to say ‘hello’ to a colleague, get a drink, or step outside for some air are all reliable exit lines.
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