In the era of social media, making a Personal Connection® can get pushed to the back burner. This has the potential to impact both personal and professional relationships. If you are someone who already struggles with opening the lines of communication, today’s tools for communicating can push you further into a shell.
Intentionality is the rule of the day. When you’re going into social settings, have pre planned topics for small talk to break the ice. It may seem like a daunting task, but try to look at it as a positive. Every successful deal starts with a conversation.
Are you looking to avoid awkward conversation starters? At VP Legacies, we believe in the value of conversation in order to cultivate Personal Connection® and better communication in all walks of life. Keep reading for tips on how to engage in successful small talk.
Related: Why Empathy in the Workplace Matters
1. Work-Related Small Talk
Forming work relationships comes easily to some people. Others simply want to do their job and go home. Regardless of which category you fall under, there will always be a need for internal workplace communication.
Be respectful of your coworkers’ time. If you know it’s the end of the month and reports are due, keep small talk to a minimum. Learn their cues for when it is not a good time to interrupt them.
To bridge the gap, always say good morning and goodbye, regardless of the response. Pay attention to what interests them and when the time is right, use that as a conversation starter.
Never take a colleague’s unwillingness to engage in small talk as a personal slight against you.
2. Professional Settings
For those who work in large corporations, there is a possibility the professional setting will extend beyond your office or cubicle. In these moments, you’ll want to have good small talk questions ready to go.
There is a saying that there are no dumb questions. However, there are questions that could make you appear less intelligent. Avoid asking questions that should be common knowledge to everyone in the room.
Instead, think about upcoming changes in the industry or a new product rollout you’d like to learn more about.
3. Networking Events
Networking events are two-fold. You are either there to represent your company or industry or you are looking for new professional opportunities.
The best practice for these events is to stay on topic, especially if small talk is not your gift. During the course of the conversation, listen for something you may have in common to steer the dialogue.
If you can’t find anything else, professionals often love repping their alma maters, so ask which college they attended. If they didn’t go to college, it’s okay. Show genuine interest in their journey to success.
4. Personal Relationships
When it comes to personal relationships, someone who is an introvert might struggle with small talk unless it’s with someone they trust. Outside of close bonds, things can get awkward.
If someone senses that you are shy or reserved, they might try to force you to open up or they’ll let you stay to yourself. Resist the urge to become comfortable with the second option. Remember that lots of people are introverts, and you don’t have to feign confidence or talkativeness in order to create successful small talk. Start off a small conversation without feeling the need to ‘oversell’ yourself.
Consider the setting. What do you know about the people or the occasion for getting together? It’s always good to know something you can use to be the first to spark the conversation.
5. Family Outings
Being around family should be a safe space to express yourself. When it comes to family outings, though, things change because you’re engaging with a bigger audience.
For instance, creating small talk at your niece’s sporting events is easy. You have the kids and the sport in common. However, avoid small talk that can lead to one-upmanship. Complement what the other child does well and do not mention their shortcomings.
Another opportunity for small talk is when you’re at a restaurant and have a long wait for a table. This is a great time to make new friends. The best conversation starter is “Why don’t all restaurants offer reservations?”
6. Entertainment Settings
This should be the easiest place to engage in small talk. Everyone at a concert, sporting event or holiday parties wants to be there, right?
Wrong! Sometimes people with social anxiety are pulled into settings and get left out of the conversation.
You can build the bridge that brings them over to the fun side of the island. Try asking an engaging question like “If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be?
7. Random Small Talk
Random conversations can pop-up at any time or place. The best ones often happen when you’re standing in long lines during holiday shopping.
No matter where you’re waiting for service or why you’re there, you automatically have something in common with the people around you. You’re there for a reason, it was important enough to be there, and you’re not leaving until you get what you came for.
The commonality is the greatest entry into random small talk. And you never know. Maybe a brief run-in might turn into a chance to develop a deeper Personal Connection®.
8. Types of Small Talk to Avoid
Yes, there are small talk situations to avoid in most settings. These center on the topics of politics, extremely personal details, and anything else that you might instinctively call ‘controversial’. If you have not developed a personal relationship with someone, leave these topics off the table.
It is also important not to engage in sexually suggestive conversations with people you do not know or work with.
9. How Long Should Small Talk Conversations Be?
Small talk conversations are brief exchanges. They are not meant to capitalize on someone’s time. It is more about filling a space between two people. Think of it as your 20-second elevator speech—without the sales pitch.
Although there is no set time on how long a conversation should last, you do need to know the cues for when someone is no longer interested. Don’t make comments like “I know you’re tired of listening to me.” This can make you seem needy. If you begin to sense the other person seems distracted, bored, or busy, you can say something like, “Do you have a few more minutes to chat?” Or, if it’s a work-related conversation, “Do you have a few more minutes to go over this task?” This is effective because it helps you figure out how much longer you should talk without demeaning yourself.
Otherwise, if it seems like the conversation has run its course, say something like “Oh, I see Mary, let me go say hi!” Or, “I’m going to get a drink, would you like something?” If they say no, move on.
10. Breaking the Ice
Many industries have taken the art of the ice-breaker to new levels with their nametags. Instead of simply placing the name on the nametag, they encourage attendees to write something about themselves. Others go so far as to create name badge decoration stations.
If you’re not lucky enough to attend such an affair, start with “Hi, my name is…” A small talk question for breaking the ice is following the introduction up by asking the other person’s name is, what brought them to the event, etc.
11. Knowing When to Disengage
Sometimes small talk leads to long talks, and before you know it, the event is over. In one sense this is a good thing, but in business, not so much. It is not uncommon for people who struggle to communicate in social settings to latch on to someone who provides a safety net.
Try to avoid these situations. One, you’re denying yourself the opportunity to meet others. Two, you’re denying the other person the opportunity to mingle and talk with others.
In spaces with lots of people, set a time limit of a few minutes. When you reach that point, graciously exit the conversation with “It was lovely meeting you, but I don’t want to take up all of your time!”
12. When to Exchange Contact Information
It’s a good thing when a connection is made through small talk, as this could be the opening to bigger conversations. Sometimes the setting is right for continued dialogue. This is when you need the confidence to ask the person if you can talk again.
Business cards are still a thing. In today’s society, people are more likely to pull out their phones and exchange numbers. Only ask for contact information if you plan to reach out later.
Avoid exchanging social media handles in professional interactions unless you’re pointing someone to your business page.
13. Follow-Up Conversations
Follow-up conversations happen for different reasons. They all result from taking the initiative to engage with someone else. Whether it was at a professional event or social outing, remember there was a commitment to do something.
Follow through on the promises to provide additional information and create a deeper Peresonal Connection®. Even if you can’t find what you promised, call to let the other person know.
The fact that there was an exchange of information means your small talk skills were on point. Congratulate yourself on being an effective communicator.
Different Topics for Small Talk and Tips for Delivery
There’s a time and a place for everything. The conversations you have at intimate gatherings with friends will be totally different than speaking to business executives at a conference.
Being able to transition from workplace conversation to happy hour banter is also beneficial when you want to fit in. Oftentimes, colleagues do not build personal relationships because they can’t shift gears outside of work. When this happens, it’s easy to become the odd man out.
Get familiar with the above list items, because understanding when and where to utilize them will make a huge difference in how you connect with others. Practice your delivery in different settings with people you trust, and over time you’ll be able to use what you’ve learned to chat comfortably with strangers. No matter the setting, though, the key to a conversation that flows is listening well and being genuinely interested in what the other person has to say.
Let’s Get the Conversation Started
These topics for small talk are just the beginning. Strong businesses are built on strong communication skills. Knowing what to say at the right time is how to build great relationships.
Do you want to give your employees the tools they need to become strong communicators? With our course, Personal Connection® 101, you can learn more about small talk and other important opportunities to connect with the people around you. As a result, you’ll learn to make powerful connections in your personal and professional life.