Many people worry over their ability to initiate small talk. Non-native English speakers have added challenges. Do you ever find yourself at social or business events anxious to make contact with strangers? What do you say?
What is small talk? According to the Cambridge Dictionary, small talk is “social conversation about unimportant things, often between people who do not know each other well.”
When in this situation, who do you approach? If you see someone sitting or standing alone, they may welcome your overture. Make eye contact, smile, and if they reciprocate, walk over and start talking. If you see a small group of people, observe their body language. If they are all facing each other with feet and bodies turned inward, they are not welcoming you, whether intentionally or unintentionally! Don’t take it personally. Go find a more receptive group. When you find that group, listen first before interrupting.
What can you say? Introduce yourself and shake hands if it is a business setting. The easiest starters are to comment on the environment, e.g., food, venue, event. You can also compliment the person’s clothing or accessory. Who doesn’t like a compliment?
Be prepared to ask open-ended questions. A yes/no question can stop the conversation immediately:
- “Have you attended this group before?” “NO.”
Instead, use an open-ended question or statement:
- “What brought you to this event?”
Open-ended statements begin with “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” “why,” “how,” or “Tell me about ……………” You will find that these help you get more of a response from your conversational partner.
Take advantage of any free information. Use verbal or visual cues. If the person said, they just moved to this city, respond with a question related to this fact:
- “Where did you live before?”
If you see a picture or diploma in their office, comment on it:
- “I see you went to The University of Michigan. What brought you to Maryland?”
- “Who is the soccer player?”
What kills a conversation? If you talk only about yourself, you will bore the listener. Asking too many questions will sound like an interview. Interrupting your partner shows you are not a good listener, and finally, speaking about controversial topics may make someone uncomfortable.
A conversation is like a tennis game; keep the conversation flowing back and forth. Be a good listener and don’t monopolize. Be sure to ask questions that connect to the conversation. Avoid talk about politics, religion, or finances since they tend to be emotional topics. When you need to move on, politely excuse yourself.
Now, next time you go to an event or find yourself with one person and silence, make eye contact, smile, and start small talking.
Contact us at Successfully Speaking to learn more about small talk and effective communication skills.