The Fine art of Small Talk
December 12, 2021
When I read a book I have the habit of highlighting certain passages I find interesting or useful. After I finish the book I’ll type up those passages and put them into a note on my phone. I’ll keep them to comb through every so often so that I remember what that certain book was about. That’s what these are. So if I ever end up lending you a book, these are the sections that I’ve highlighted in that book. Enjoy!
Take the risk. We cannot hope that others will approach us; instead, even if we are shy, it is up to us to make the first move.
Just remind yourself that there are more dire consequences in life than a rejection by someone at a networking event, singles function, back-to-school night, or association meeting.
It is our responsibility to come up with topics to discuss; it is up to us to remember people’s names and to introduce them to others; it is up to us to relive the awkward moments or fill the pregnant pause. Most of us hope others will assume these tasks.
People appreciate a conversation in which they feel acknowledged, heard, and significant.
Remember, even your closest confidante was once a stranger.
It is not about an agenda but is simply a way to acknowledge a person as being very real and there.
And the best part is that it puts you in charge of your own destiny. Instead of waiting for someone–anyone–to talk to you, you choose your conversation partner. What a concept: you get to select someone!
When someone gives you a smile, you are naturally inclined to smile back. Be the first to smile and greet another person. Just smile and a few words, and it’s done. Be sure that you make eye contact.
As you cut through the parking lot into the grocery store, greet three other shoppers.
The best way to get people comfortable enough to open up and express themselves was to look them in the eye and ask What’s your name? Making eye contact and placing the emphasis on the word your
It’s much easier to engage one person rather than enter a group conversation, so begin by looking for the “approachable person” The approachable person is the one who makes eye contact with you or who is not actively engaged in a conversation or another activity.
Enthusiastic exclamations like What a beautiful day or That was a great ____ are indirect invitations to chat. Better to be direct, so there is no doubt you are starting a dialogue.
This gentleman was successful because he showed an interest in what the other person had to say, and she was open to it. Showing genuine interest is flattering and essential to conversing. If you are interested in how I lost sixty-five pounds or how I started my business or anything else about me, I feel special. I also think positively about you and want to continue talking with you.
- Make eye contact
- Find that approachable person!
- Offer your name and use theirs.
When you approach a “dancing couple”, wait politely for an interval and then turn to the person you have no desire to speak with and ask for permission to intrude. Most people are too gracious to say no. Another option that is less intrusive is to excuse yourself for the interruption, noting that you wanted to let the person know you were in attendance and wanted an opportunity to get together before the evening was over.
My kids come through the door at the end of the day, and I ask, How was your day at school? In stereo, I get back Fine. Instead of considering that a dead-end, I follow up with another question. I inquire, what did you like about it today? My teenage son usually says I don’t know. I look him right in the eye and tell him, Really, tell me about one class you liked today. He thinks about it for a minute. Finally, he says, Science. And I inquire, What did you like about science? He launches into a colorful description of an experiment they did, and we’re talking. The bottom line is that you have to open it up, and you have to show you truly care.
What made it so great? What went on for you today?
- How was your summer? What special things did you do?
- How were your holidays? How did you celebrate?
- How was your weekend? What did you do? Is that usually something you do on the weekend?
Busy. Follow-up responses could include: How do you deal with being busy? What is going on that’s got you so busy? Describe a busy day for you. Do you like being busy? Does there seem to be a cycle of busyness during your year? Do you remember a time in your life when you weren’t as busy?
What is your idea of an ideal climate? How does bad weather affect you?
Tell me about your family.
Tell me about your business/work.
Tell me about your favorite hobby.
What was the best part of your weekend?
Fail-Safe questions for every Business Function
- How did you get started in your business?
- Tell me what you enjoy most about your profession
- Describe some of the challenges of your profession
- What will be the coming trends in your business?
- Tell me about you most important work exprience.
- What advice would you give someone just starting out in your business?
- What significant changes have you seen since you started in your field?
- What is the most bizzare incident that you’ve ever experienced in your business?
- Describe a typical day on the job.
- What do you enjoy most about your profession?
- Describe your most important work experience.
- What was the best job you ever had? What was the worst?
What do you miss the most about where you are from? or What do you enjoy about your new home?
A simple rule that garners great rewards is to start conversations with a minimum of three new people a week.
If you are willing to interrupt someone when they are engaged, just ask the question! But to be polite, you could offer I’m sorry to interrupt… and then ask your question.
Lori that’s a great story about Adam’s hitting streak. Marilyn, what’s been going on with your kids? Connecting Lori’s story about her son to Marilyn’s kids lends continuity to the conversation while diplomatically allowing someone else a chance to talk.
That sounds tough, Uncle Joe. Cousin Larry, what’s going on for you at work?
The truth is, most people don’t want advice–they want empathy and compassion.
Issue an Invitation
- I don’t want to monopolize your time this evening. Can we arrange to meet later?
- I’ll be thinking of your during your ______. May I call you when you get back?
- I’d enjoy spending some time with you. Can I phone you to set up a convenient time?
- I’d like to rehash what we did in class tonight. Would you like to join me for a cup of coffee?
- I enjoyed working out with you. Do you want to meet next week and do it again?
- Do be the first to say hello
- Do take the risk and introduce yourself to others.
- Don’t hope that your grandmother from St. Louis will arrive and introduce you to all these strangers.
- Don’t appear nervous or ill at ease; pretend you feel comfortable until you do!
- Do make eye contact
- Don’t monopolize by speaking for more than four to five minutes–throw the conversational ball back and forth.
- Do practice an “elevator speech”, offering a couple of interesting sentences about your work.
- Do give the gift of repeating your name if you think the possibility exists that someone has forgotten it.
People want to be with people who make them feel special, not people who are “special”.
I know exactly zero people here. How about you?
I never know what to say at these affairs, but I would like to meet you.
As the other person is responding, think about how to comment on what they are saying, rather than on your next question. This exercise does wonders to sharpen your listening skills.
- If you could replay any moment in your life, what would it be?
- What smell brings back a special memory?
- What’s your favorite thing to do while alone?
- What are some of your family traditions that you enjoy?
- Describe a memorable teacher you had.
- Tell me about a book you’ve read more than once.
- Tell me about a place you’ve visited that you hope to never return to.
- Describe your first away-from-home living experience.
- Tell me about the best vacation you’ve ever taken.
- What’s your favorite thing to do on a rainy day?
- What’s the one thing you would really like to own?
- Tell me about one of your favorite relatives.
- What was it like in the town where you grew up?
- What do you think is the perfect age?
- Of all the places you’ve lived, tell me about the one you’ve liked the best
- Tell me about the first car you ever bought.
- What’s your favorite restaurant?
- What’s the best suprise you’ve ever recieved?
- What song reminds you of an incident in your life?
- Describe an embarassing moment you’ve had.
- What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever eaten?
- Describe the scariest person you’ve ever met.
- Did you ever have a childhood friend who used to get you in trouble?
- Tell me about a memory of one of your grandparents.
@joekotlan on Twitter