A necessary evil that can be conquered
Written by RJ Firchau
If you are a proponent of personal style, then you probably place a certain level of importance on putting your best foot forward. Style, though it has its own challenges, is simple enough. You figure out what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to your wardrobe, and you build upon it. The art of conversation, however, is not so simple. Small talk is kind of like that insurmountable beast none of us ever seems to be completely comfortable doing. You’d be lying if you say you’ve never dodged into another aisle at a grocery store to avoid an annoying neighbor, or dreaded the thought of yet another networking event. But small talk is the basis of every single non-familial relationship you’ve ever formed in your entire life. Think about that. Your best friend that you’ve known since elementary school asked to borrow a pencil one day, and bam. The rest is history.
Small talk is a necessary evil. It’s the only way to forge relationships, meet new people, and create new opportunities for yourself. You never know if the next person you meet could end up offering you a job, becoming your girlfriend, or acting as the best man at your wedding. Every single interaction has the ability to catapult your life in a new direction, but only if you actually get out there and talk. Yeah, small talk is difficult, but it all comes down to gaining a better understanding of how to present yourself, and how to approach others. Here are 8 tips to keep in mind in order to master small talk, no matter what situation you find yourself in.
1. Dress Well (duh)
You already know the whole you-only-have-a-few-seconds-to-make-a-first-impression spiel. And there’s a lot of truth to that. If you want to approach people, and you want to be regarded as an approachable person, you need to think critically about your appearance. Take the time to dress nicely, groom yourself well, and look confident. A sloppy appearance might deter people quicker than you’re able to mutter the word “hello.” Think about it. If a homeless person (who could be a lovely man or woman, after all–but bear with us here) dressed in raggedy, dirty clothes and a well-groomed guy in slacks and a button-up approached you at the same time, who would you feel more comfortable talking to?
2. Stand Up Straight
When people don’t know you, they look to social and visual clues to determine whether or not you’d be a cool person to talk to. Facial expression, posture, and eye contact all come into play here. Make sure you look like you want to talk and be talked to, make eye contact with people you’re engaging with, and make sure you’re not closing yourself off physically (crossing your arms, slumping, or crouching over your phone pretending to text someone).
3. Be Confident and Positive
Attitudes are like diseases (not trying to be creepy here, but you get the idea). They are contagious. Much like one person’s bad attitude can make everyone feel a little crummy, a good attitude will make others feel good, too. Approaching a stranger with confidence and a positive perspective will make that person more inclined to feel confident and positive, too.
4. Do Some Homework
Before any social gathering, do some research about the guests or the event itself. If you of know speakers or people you’d like to meet, research them and come up with talking points. If you’ve met the people at the event before, try to remember some things about them that you can bring up. Also, it doesn’t hurt to skim current events and what’s trending on Twitter, too, if you’re in a pinch for things to say.
1. Make it Easy for People to get to Know You
This should go without saying, but no one is going to want to talk to you if you make it difficult. Get in the habit of making it as easy as possible for others to get to know you. State your name with a firm handshake whenever you’re introduced to someone new, avoid one-word answers to questions, and try not to say anything that could come off as curt or condescending.
2. Ask Good Questions
One of the easiest ways to keep a conversation going is to make sure you’re not asking boring questions! Try to stick to questions that are open-ended (i.e. can’t be answered with a yes, a no, or a shrug), and have some go-to follow up/clarification questions ready. Some good ways to go are with questions that start off like…
- Tell me about…
- What was it like when you…
- How did you feel about…
- What brought you to…
- What did you like best/least about…
- What are your thoughts on…
3. Listen First, Speak Second
It’s easy to talk about yourself, but it shows even more maturity to be a good listener, too. If you’re not good at small talk, you can ease yourself into conversations by observing first. Figure out what people are talking about (without interrupting), listen to everyone’s input, and then jump in with your comments or questions. Likewise, when you ask a question, make sure to listen with the intent of understanding, as opposed to with the intent of one-upping or crafting a witty response. People want to be heard, and will feel more comfortable talking to you for longer periods of time if they don’t feel like they’re boring you or like you’re not interested in what they have to say.
4. Know How and When to Make an Exit
Finally, knowing how to make a graceful exit from any conversation is the key to leaving things on a high note, even if the conversation wasn’t amazing. If the conversation is dull from the get-go, understand that it’s better to minimize the damage and end things early than to stick it out because you think you’re being polite. If the conversation is amazing, understand that it’s still probably best to end things a bit prematurely (that way, you’ll want to talk again later or have an excuse to meet up for coffee sometime). Two easy ways to gracefully end a conversation are to, frankly, excuse yourself (because you have to go to the bathroom, introduce yourself to a colleague who’s leaving, or some other forgivable reason), or to introduce the person you’re talking to to someone else, and then exit. Both ways help you save face while also allowing you to get out and go chat with someone else.
Small talk is never an easy feat. However, you never know who you’re about to talk to and what impact that person could have on your life. Learning how to approach small talk and keep the conversation going is key to mastering things like networking events, company lunches, Tinder dates, and even conversations with strangers you have to sit with on a plane. With these tips in tow, it’s time to start seeing small talk as less of a hassle, and more of an opportunity waiting to happen.
SOURCE: THE GENTLEMANUAL