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Make Small Talk Worthwhile

Aug 24, 2020 | 12m

Gain Actionable Insights Into:

  • Using the context of your meeting to establish a common ground and initiate a conversation
  • Why it’s perfectly fine to stay quiet instead of making conversation just for the sake of it
  • What not to say or ask when meeting someone for the first time


Context Cues

Small talk is an important skill to master regardless of what you do or where you live. It is an essential part of building relationships with people around you, whether professional or personal. It allows you to initiate a conversation with someone who may add value to your life and vice versa.

For extroverts, small talk comes naturally. They enjoy being around people and having one conversation after the other. It may seem like they know the right thing to say at the right time. They have no qualms about putting themselves out there and engaging with others around them.

On the other hand, small talk can be quite intimidating for extreme introverts. It probably took a significant amount of energy just for an introvert to step outside of the hotel room and walk into the conference full of strangers. Just the thought of having a conversation with a stranger may cause them to break into cold sweats.

If small talk is overwhelming for you, how can you master this skill to your advantage? Before you even set foot in an event, it is fundamental for you to know your agenda. Why are you there in the first place? What do you want to get out of this event? When you have an agenda, it can guide your conversations and your plan of action as you participate in the event.

The easiest way to strike up a conversation with a stranger is to use the context to your advantage. I attended a conference for lead designers. Everyone had experience in design, and we talked about team building and rules we would use to guide our team. It was a wonderful conversation starter because everyone had something to share.

In addition to our work experiences, we also talked about the main topic of the conference. Because the conference was about a new tool called Envision, we shared our experience or lack thereof with this tool. It was easy and natural to discuss the main topic of the event.

If you attend a wedding, it is unlikely for you to know everyone at your table. You can use the context of your situation to start up a conversation. For example, you may ask, “So, how do you know the bride and groom?” When you start a conversation using the context, it makes everyone feel more comfortable and builds common ground between two strangers.

However, if you happen to find yourself in a situation where you are out of your comfort zone, you can start by observing what other people are talking about. When you are ready to hold a conversation, you can talk about similar topics or discuss the latest news.

If you happen to be in a foreign country and most of the other attendees are locals, then you can tell people that you are from overseas, and it is your first time in their country. It is likely that people will start to ask you questions about where you are from, and this can help you feel more comfortable about having a conversation with them.

It always pays to be honest. People may be kinder than we expect, and they may reach out to you and help you feel welcome. So, it does not hurt to tell people that you are not comfortable in your current situation because you are new. Then, you can ask others to tell you something about this place.

Be Prepared for the Event

In order to make small talk easier, there are a few things you can do to prepare. First, do some research about the event, location, and weather so that you can dress appropriately for the occasion. People often dismiss the importance of this because it seems trivial. But if you are dressed appropriately, you are more likely to feel comfortable engaging with others and vice versa.

It would also be helpful to stay updated on the latest happenings in the area or industry because this would serve as good conversation starters. Bring up topics that others can relate to and let the conversation flow naturally.

If you show up to the event dressed appropriately, but you still feel uncomfortable with starting a conversation with someone, then give yourself permission to stand around quietly and observe. People may surprise you and welcome you into their conversation.

Whether you are starting a conversation or engaging with someone else who has invited you into another conversation, having a clear agenda for your attendance can guide your small talk. If you are trying to sell something or gain new clients, then you can ask questions around your product or industry to learn more about the other party before making your pitch.

As is important in any conversation, be ready to listen. Pay attention to what the other person is saying and read their body language so that you know if the other person is interested in continuing the conversation with you. As you listen, you may find topics that spark your interest, and it can help reveal follow-up questions to continue the conversation.

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Aryaman Mandhana

Former Chief of Staff, Design




Network & Build Relationships For Budding Sales Superstars