I’m often amazed at how many people I meet who tell me that they are no good at making small talk. They are happy to chat with friends, or people that they meet at a party. But when it comes to business, when it comes to networking, they find it tough.
There are few reasons for this, but the most common I find is the pressure that we put on ourselves to talk business. We feel like we must only talk about that we do, or even worse, sell what we do, and we’re not completely comfortable at doing that.
Some even feel that what they do won’t be interesting to other people, and clam up completely as a result.
The truth is that small talk is vital. It allows us to get to know that other person. It’s the starting point that helps us to decide if we like that other person. Small talk is the glue of relationship building.
It’s important to remember that we can’t do business with people that we don’t know, and we don’t buy professional services from people that we don’t trust.
But to get from know to trust, we need to move through like.
People like people who like the same things as they do, or even dislike the same things as they do. This is human nature. Think of sporting clubs, or social clubs. We start with a commonality e.g. we like playing golf, or cards, or drinking real ale and then we find out all the other things about that person that we have in common too.
And just as we don’t choose to socialise with people we don’t like, we don’t choose to do business with them either (of course unless we absolutely have to).
So how do we decide if we like someone? How do we get from knowing them to liking them?
We chat to them. We make small talk. We ask questions, and we listen to the answers.
If we start to treat a business meeting the same way we do any other social interaction, we can chat with people in a way that we are comfortable with. We really mustn’t be scared of getting to know someone, and then moving onto business.
So how do we do that? I’m glad you asked…
If you need a little help, just image the image I am about to give you and you will have all the small talk hints you will ever need.
Imagine you are looking at your home, picture it in front of you. And above the roof is a massive 50 foot business card. Now, bursting through the middle of the card is an aeroplane.
But this is not a modern jet, but an old fashioned propeller driven plane. And, the plane is a little different because instead of normal propellers it has tennis rackets.
Inside the plane where you would normally expect to see a pilot is a newspaper. And in the back of the plane is you and your family.
Now you have all the small talk subjects you will ever need.
Where have you come from? Where are you based? How did you get here? People with accents are great for this
The plane: (from the Jedi Knights of small talk – hair dressers!)
Holidays and travel
The tennis rackets:
Sports, interests and hobbies
Current affairs, news, general interest topics
You and your family:
These are great subjects to have in common, but one word of warning here – you should not directly ask someone you have just met if they married or have children. Wait for them to volunteer the information first – someone who doesn’t have children, or has just been separated or divorced may not want to talk about it!
And finally, the business card:
Business. You need to get to this, it is a business event after all. An easy way to do it is to ask something simple like: “how are you finding things at the moment?”.
This will trigger the business talk, and away you go.