Career,  Lifelong Learning,  Networking

Small Talk—Be Effective in a BIG Way


Each time I attend a conference or seminar for students, networking is a topic that is addressed every time. This isn’t a new trend, but in a world so focused on technology and impersonal relationships, pre-professionals are getting worse at this fundamental skill set. Relationships that we build with peers and professionals are critical to success in our careers.

Imagine a scenario where you are in a room with important executives or classmates within your program; would you have the courage to walk up to a stranger and introduce yourself? Or if you were in a long line at Subway and there was someone behind you; would you be able to strike up a conversation?

Personally, I have encountered both situations and the connections that I made are extremely valuable. Both conversations began by engaging in simple small talk and progressed into something greater. Not everyone has the charisma to engage in these spontaneous interactions, but it’s important to always make an attempt. Looking for some tips? I’ve got you covered.

Here are a few suggestions (with bonus lightning tips) that might help you come out on top.

Ask Questions

In a study conducted by the University of Liverpool Department of Psychology, it was found that on average, people spend 60 percent of conversations talking about themselves. So you could jump into a conversation and use that 60 percent sharing instances where you overcame your weaknesses, or you could plan ahead with a few questions you could ask someone. Find a balance between getting personal and being professional. Remember that guy in the Subway line I started talking to? We sat together for lunch and enjoyed a casual conversation about work. Things got going when I noticed he had a wedding rings on and I took a moment to ask if he had kids, and instantly his eyes widened and smile tripled in size. We walked away from that table with a connection that went far beyond swapping business cards.

Leave Your Phone In Your Pocket

Photo by Ross Sokolovski on Unsplash

This should go without saying, but if you’re at an event with people that you can interact with–put your phone away! You can only be successful if you are present in body and mind. If you find the first few moments might be awkward, try and embrace the feeling and find someone that interests you. The relationships that can be made in situations like this can be life changing (for you or for someone else).

Stay Current with News and Industry Language

Brainstorming topics of conversation ahead of time can seem quite daunting. Try reading the news and seeing what is going on in the world. This will have multiple effects on you. First, you will seem more intelligent in a dialogue with professional. Second, you can stay up-to-date on what is going on in your industry and know how to leverage that information to your advantage. Third, reading is just good for you…look it up!

Pay Attention to Body Language

Knowing when to end a conversation is as important as trying to get started in one. Pay attention to the body language of others and look for cues to know to wrap things up. Nobody wants to be the guys that blabbers on for longer than necessary. If they are looking around, fidgeting or checking their watch, it may be time to ask about following up. This tip also applies to knowing when to change the topic of conversation. Be self-aware.

  • Practice small talk with people you already know
  • Learn people’s names and remember them
  • Avoid unusual or awkward subjects
  • Remember facts about others, especially if you have had multiple interactions
  • Push yourself to try new things

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