Relationships are an important part of doing business, but not every interaction you have with co-workers, supervisors or customers will be (or should be) an intimate exchange between close friends.
That’s why the ability to engage in ‘small talk’ is one of those soft skills that employers find so valuable.
Small talk facilitates social interactions by sidestepping strict formality without presuming unwarranted familiarity. It’s a way of conversing with other people in a manner that isn’t overly formal or openly casual. In business settings, it’s especially handy to have small-talk skills at meetings, company outings, conferences and other events where the lines between work-and-personal lives can blur.
For lots of people, especially recent graduates, small talk is difficult. However, with some practice and these tips, everyone can improve.
Learn to Listen by Counting to 100
Ironically, the most skilled small-talkers are the ones who do the least talking. That doesn’t mean you should be mute; it means that you should avoid dominating the conversation. If you find yourself talking a lot more than your counterpart in the conversation, try cutting yourself off. Then ask a question and count to 100. If you practice this long enough, you’ll tame the urge to interrupt every time you have a thought. Save your responses for a natural break in the conversation. Small talk is mostly about leaving a good impression, and good listeners always make other people feel comfortable.
Memorize a Dozen Questions
One way to improve your small talk is to memorize a dozen or so conversation starters. They don’t need to be elaborate. Keep it simple, starting with, ‘How are you?’ or ‘What’s new with you?’
To keep the conversation going, memorize some relatively impersonal questions, such as “I’m looking for book recommendations. Do you have any?”
Likewise, if you’re new to town or traveling for work, it never hurts to ask for restaurant or sightseeing recommendations. Sure, you can do your own research online, but that’s not the point. The idea behind small talk is to make a connection and leave a good impression.
Give Yourself a “Pre-Interview”
People who excel at small talk are good conversationalists. That means that they’re good at asking questions and listening, but they’re also good at sharing information. They know how to give good responses. In fact, they make it look easy. How’d they do it? By preparing ahead of time.
You know those touching or hilarious anecdotes that celebrities give on late-night shows? They seem spontaneous, but it’s the complete opposite. In broadcast TV and radio, guests almost always go through a pre-interview before they go on air. Typically, a producer asks a bunch of questions to help the guest collect their thoughts and identify talking points and stories.
There’s no reason you can’t do the same with yourself. Consider what questions you’re likely to be asked and jot down some answers ahead of time. If someone asks, “What’s new with you,” what are four or five different ways you could answer, depending on the audience?
Take a Dry Run at Revature
Doing small-talk well is an acquired skill, something that is mastered through experiences that most recent graduates haven’t yet had. That’s why Revature pays its recruits to attend a 12-week training program, where they develop the technology and soft skills necessary to have a long-term career working on enterprise-level projects. At the end of the training, we place our recruits in positions with one of our many clients. If you’re a career-oriented worker with an interest in the technology sector, then the Revature Consulting Life might be right for you.