The Importance of Small Talk

Small Talk
The Importance of Small Talk

Tips from author and speaker Leil Lowndes & VerbalAdvantage

There is great value in those common and “unoriginal remarks” for meeting someone new.  Small talk breaks the ice with people.  It allows each person to feel the other person out before taking a conversation further.  It builds rapport.  It gives people time to get over the initial uneasiness of meeting for the first time.

Make the goal in your conversations to connect rather than impress.  Find out who the other person is.  Two kinds of people that walk into a room – Well here I am!  OR  Ah there you are!  A good conversationalist will be the one that walks into a room and says “Ah there you are!”

Seven Guidelines for Small Talk

1.  Make it neutral and non-threatening.
2.  Talk about something relevant at the time and relative to the situation.
3.  Make it pleasant, complimentary, or empathetic.  Be sincere.
4.  Talk about something that will be easy to agree with.
5.  Make your opening remarks start with the word “you.  The word you gets a persons attention and personalizes your
6.  Resist the quick “me too”.  Let the person enjoy telling their story before telling yours.
7.  Echo the person’s words.  Speak their language.   For example if the are talking about what they do for a living and refer to
it as their “profession”, then use the word “profession” when speaking to them about their work.

Warnings when meeting people for the first time:

  • Avoid complaining and bad mouthing
  • Opening words that are negative give a bad impression.  Whatever you first say is 100% of their impression.
  • If you don’t agree with the person say something like “That’s an interesting way to look at it.   Tell me more.”
  • Don’t share secrets or intimacies too early in meeting someone.
  • Forget clever remarks, jokes, and intellectual comments early on.  This is too much too soon for most people to feel comfortable with and will cause the other person to feel overwhelmed and a need to leave and/or avoid the conversation.

Do the following during small talk:

Listen for anything that might lead you into a different direction.  Pick up on specific words that the person uses and that will lead to a deeper conversation.  Keep your ears tuned to words that will clue you into what the person is interested in.

  • Empathize.  Empathizers are short statements like “I can see that you” or “I can understand you feeling that way” or “It must have been…”
  • Keep the focus on them
  • If you sense someone enjoys their work – then ask them about it.
  • Ask, “What do you enjoy doing?”
  • Look at the body language and take note if they are ready to talk.
  • Match their mood for a moment
  • Use their name
  • Ask open ended questions.  For example:  Why did you move to this area?  Tell me about your trip.  What is your work day like?  What inspired you to go into your field?
  • As the conversation evolves then you can ask background or roots, upbring where they grew up or grade school.  Occupation, hobbies, etc.
  • Ask What they enjoy doing on weekends.
  • Greet people by silently thinking “Hello Old Friend” and think acronym SOFTENER
    • Smile
    • Open body language
    • Forward lean
    • Touch – light fleeting touch on the arm
    • Eye contact
    • Nodding
    • Energy level – keep it up and animated
    • Relative distance between you and the person you are talking to.  Two feet apart is average.  Farther away shows intimidation.

Check out articles How to Mingle and the 3-minute conversation and Body Language