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I recently had the pleasure of being a presenter on a webinar hosted by our colleagues at ACCES Employment CA (accesemployment.ca). The topic: The Art of Small Talk. Today, chatting and engaging in small talk is something I do easily, but it was not always the case. Here are some of the tips I’ve been learning over the years while networking and presenting our company.

There are many times that you might start chatting with people, but we’re going to focus on finding your voice when networking and or being interviewed for a job.

“A golden rule is that you don‘t have to be brilliant―just nice,” says Bernardo J. Carducci, Ph.D of the talent for small talk. It may seem like an unimportant or trivial business matter, but such pleasant conversation is a key way to break the ice at a meeting or interview and establish a genuine human connection with these strangers. It is the very way that we make those connections that could lead to deeper conversations.

What Blocks you from engaging?

There are many things that can stop a person from chatting with others at networking events or other social settings.

Here are a few common deterrents –

  • Confusion/Lack of Confidence
  • Social Anxiety
  • Excessive Social Media Use
  • Vocabulary
  • Cultural Difference

Ways to Overcome the Blocks

You can address these problems with patience and practice.

  • Building the self confidence to put yourself in these situations takes time and a few successful endeavors to feel the courage build. It’s important to remember not to worry about the opinions of other people and keep yourself open to being friendly and approachable. Even in interviews, don’t let a question throw you. Take a moment to pause and think before replying. Questions that often throw people are “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” or “Tell me more about yourself.” Knowing these may come up, prepare a short reply, or ask a few questions of your own to find out what the interviewer is looking for.
  • There are many reasons for anxiety, and some can even be from a medical condition. But many times social anxiety comes from within, based on your beliefs or understanding, and not on the situation. Think to yourself, “Everyone needs someone to talk to at networking events. If I strike up a conversation with that person, he or she will probably be glad to have someone to talk to.” Or offer yourself a reward, like an evening at home watching your favorite movie, for being a part of a conversations and meeting a few new people.
  • You may be surprised to learn that Social Media and mobile connectivity have actually become a deterrent to real small talk, genuine conversation, and person to person discussions. As connected as these devises and apps make us, they also act as a method to avoid actually participating in a conversation with the people you are with. There’s a fear of missing out (FoMO), of not seeing the latest tidbit first. Put the phone down and take time to look and talk to the people around you. You might be missing out on something exciting right in front of you.
  • Sometimes the vocabulary can cause some confusion as we all have our own style and pronunciation based on our regional backgrounds or language barriers. It is okay if someone finds it difficult to understand what you said, you can always say, ‘sorry for my accent’ and repeat yourself by speaking slowly.
  • Our world is very diverse. As people move and migrate, it can be challenging to understand how another person’s culture addresses first meetings and small talk. For example, how close do you stand to someone you’re talking to? There are places where it’s not unusual to stand very close where others follow an arm length rule. Certain parts of the world it would be considered rude or totally inappropriate to talk to a stranger without an introduction from someone you both know. Other cultures are fine with chatting to just about anyone at any time and it’s perfectly fine. Addressing these difference can be particularly challenging, but it can also be the perfect opportunity to ask questions and learn more about another person’s culture.

As with any social activity, there are some Do’s and Don’ts that can help guide you through the Small Talk maze.

Small Talk ‘DO’s

  • Start with an introduction of yourself.
  • Just be relaxed and smile. If you are relaxed and smiling, others will be relaxed around you and smile as well.
  • Be mindful of body language. Are your arms crossed in front of you? That could indicate to others that you are blocking them. See above – relax and smile.
  • Remember names. This can be difficult for some people. Develop some Mnemonic techniques or repetitions to help you remember someone’s name. However, if you can’t remember it, be honest and just ask again. People usually understand.
  • Find common interests, but avoid your favorite topic. That may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes we can get over enthusiastic or excitable about things that are our passion. It’s better to wait until you learn about the person before indulging in your hot topic.
  • When in doubt, discuss the setting or the weather. There are times when you just need something to get the conversation going. Commenting on the view, or the centerpieces, or some other aspect of the location; or commenting about the weather that day can be the ice breaker.

Small Talk ‘DON’T’s

  • Asking irrelevant or personal questions. You may be trying to get to know the person, but asking questions that are too personal in nature while you are still getting to know the person is inappropriate and will probably leave the other person with a bad impression.
  • Religious or political beliefs. It’s pretty standard to not discuss these things at networking events and interviews. You are entirely entitled to your beliefs, but bringing up the subject in a neutral setting could come across as pushy or proselytizing.
  • Acting arrogantly and pretending to Know It All. There is a fine line between being knowledgeable and being a know it all. Trying to impress people with a superior attitude or your vast amount of intellect on all subjects just makes you annoying. It’s fine to share your knowledge, but it’s important to do it in a generous way that welcomes others in to the conversation.
  • Interrupting a conversation between one or more people. If others are talking about a topic that you’re familiar with, it’s easy to want to jump in. But if you haven’t been a part of the whole discussion it could appear that you’re being rude, even if that wasn’t your intent. It’s better to wait until there’s an appropriate pause or you’re invited to join into the conversation.
  • Ending the conversation abruptly. Picture it from the other person’s side. You’re having a conversation and then one person suddenly dismisses you and walks away. Again, not a good impression. If you have to leave for whatever reason, finish what you are currently saying and politely excuse yourself by saying ‘It was nice chatting with you, excuse me I would like to catch up with the host before he/she gets busy’ or ‘it is a pleasure meeting you, let us keep in touch’. If you would like to excuse yourself from a conversation, you can gently do so either by introducing someone that you know, or say something like – ‘hold on to that thought, I have to say hello to that person but we will get back to you soon’ or ‘I am impressed with your knowledge, but excuse me for a moment I would like to grab a cup of coffee before the session starts’; something of that sort where you are not projecting yourself rude to the other person.

    You may be wondering why we even need to think about Small Talk. There are many benefits to learning the knack of chatting:
  • It helps make a good impression.
  • Can help you feel better about what you are doing and your own skills.
  • Increases interest in learning about others.
  • It can be a trigger for new ideas or help you with a problem-solving dilemma.
  • Helps building lasting relationships and connections that will be available to you over your career.
  • Great for your business.

SMALL TALK is NOT Rocket Science!!! But it does take practice, patience, and a willingness to learn and adapt to become an excellent conversationalist and networker.

For the full webinar, go to ACCES Employment. Let me know your top do’s or don’ts for Small Talk in the comments below.

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