The Art of Making Small Talk

It’s the little things that count…little things mean a lot…tiny acorns, giant oaks.

You know all the clichés, but they’re all inarguable, and firmly rooted in nature: from small things, big things one day come.

So it goes in the world of business, and especially in that smallest and seemingly most insignificant type of business communication: small talk.

Yes, it’s the bane of shy people everywhere, but making small talk can sometimes be a challenge to us all.

Like everything else, however, when approached and dealt with strategically and systematically, it can lay the groundwork for great success and long-term, productive relationships.

Every great transaction once began with a simple “hi, how are you?” Here are some tips to remember next time you need to break the ice and a get the conversation flowing…..

Ask questions. It’s the easiest thing to do, and should come naturally, but sometimes we feel this strange need to “know it all”—and folks who know everything never NEED to ask questions, right? But the most innocuous question can do two things: it can break the silence, and it sets the stage for a response—fundamental to two-way human conversation. It also shifts the spotlight to your companion and demonstrates that you care what’s on their mind. And following up with a second, deeper question simply multiples the effect. And the value.

Listen. You’ve got one mouth, but two ears—so try listening twice as much as you talk. Granted, that’s literally not always possible, but you get the point: too often we spend way more time rehearsing our next line than truly hearing the response to our first one. This is especially critical in small talk. If you ask a potential customer what they had for lunch and completely disregard their reply, you can set the stage for some very awkward and irrelevant banter. And why would they expect you to understand the essence of their business needs if you can’t even play back that lunch order?

Change lanes gently. You wouldn’t take a right-hand turn at 40 miles per hour, would you? Same way with small talk. Eventually—and it’s usually sooner than later—the time comes to shift the topic to business. But making that shift in too abrupt a fashion will send your prospect—or your passenger!—reeling. Slowly wind up your previous topic of conversation and draw it to a close—“sounds great, I’ll have to try that” or “well, hopefully it will work out better next time.” You’re no longer advancing the narrative, but setting Act I up for the closing credits, moving on to the next chapter just before the silence gets awkward: “Say, I was wanting to talk to you about…”.

Watch your body.  When you are not fully invested in a conversation, your body language can be a dead giveaway. Don’t forget the basics: maintain a positive stance, good eye contact, smile, and don’t look bored! Stay focused on your subject (not others in the room), and avoid off-putting gestures like leaning or folding your arms. And do not, for ANY reason, sneak peeks at your phone.

Because, like we said, little things mean a lot….for good AND for bad.

Now, what else was I wanting to say? Oh yeah…