Mastering the Art of Small Talk
Another conference. Another daunting day full of awkward coffee breaks with forced conversations. Or the first day at a new job, with a new team and an unknown environment. Or a dinner party at a friend's house. We’re sure you’ve been there, and if you are like most people, small talk makes you feel uncomfortable. So we’ve put together a little how-to that will help you to easily tackle these situations. This way you don’t have to stammer and/or frantically babble about your collection of tea cozies anymore.
Part 1: Asking the right questions
Starting the conversation
If you feel that it’s upon you to start the conversation (you know, in those moments when the person next to you is shuffling around uncomfortably and staring at their coffee like it’s a beach panorama) the best way to do it is by stating a fact. At a conference, this could be about the venue or the area - “I love this neighbourhood. It’s where I went to school, and being here today is a real trip down memory lane” or “I hear this hotel has recently been entirely redecorated. How do you like this interior?” . At a dinner party, you could share some information about your host, such as “Did you know Clara recently got promoted? I’m so excited for her.”
Moving on from small talk
You can go deeper into topics and move on from everyday blah blah by asking more detailed questions (“Your job sounds really interesting, but I hear your industry has been badly affected by the economical crisis. What is your opinion?”). Just that easy, you are in a heated political discussion.
Breaking up a monologue
This is also a great way to steer the conversation towards a topic you are really interested in. For example, if the other person keeps babbling on about their passion for golf, break up the monologue by asking, “Wow, with so many tournaments going on and all those weekend engagements, did you get a chance to travel this year at all?”.
Choosing the right questions
With every question you ask, try to make it an open one, which means that the other person cannot answer with just “yes” or “no”. For example, instead of asking “Do you enjoy travelling?”, just say “Where did you spend your last holiday?”, then follow it up with “What made you choose that destination?” or “What did you like best about it?”. This encourages the other person to tell you a bit more.
Alternatively, you can provide them with two possible answers, which means they will have to elaborate on why they chose the one they went with. This works with pretty much every question, such as “Are you here by car or bike?” or “Are you enjoying the wine selection as well, or are you more of a beer drinker?”.
Part 2: Knowing your answers
Preparing for the standard questions
In order to smoothly master any introduction and make yourself feel a bit more secure, you can prepare the answers to three standard questions that will help you nail it. Those standard questions are usually “How are you doing?”, “Where do you live?”, “What do you do?”, etc.
Phrasing a great answer
Make your answers long (or rather, long-ish - you don’t want them to fall asleep like your Kaa from the Jungle Book). Be informative and engaging and provide good bits of information that encourage the other person to provide equally good answers as well. End each answer with the next question - indirect (“...but you don’t seem convinced”) or direct (“don’t you agree?”).
Remember that small talk is the introduction to a proper conversation. As trivial and ridiculous as you might find it know, who knows - the person standing next to you and telling you about the horrible parking situation in this area might soon be a new friend. So keep and open mind and a friendly, honest attitude and you might benefit sooner than you know it.
That’s all, folks! Now go and enjoy your deep conversations - you can thank us later!
The Smunch Team
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