Ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that “quiet” is not a word used to describe my personality. My mouth is always moving, whether I’m gabbing on the phone to my friends, chatting with my neighbor, or interviewing a subject for a story. I like to think I’m a pretty good conversationalist. But put me in a room full of people that I don’t know, and I instantly turn into “shy girl,” secretly praying that someone, anyone, will strike up a conversation—and I won’t say anything stupid.
With every event I go to, though, I realize how important small talk is, especially when it comes to making business connections. It also doesn’t have to be scary. The next time you feel yourself melting into the wall at a party or work event, remember this: People LOVE to talk about themselves. Seriously. Keep that in mind as you follow these tips:
Start off with a question. Again, this will get them talking about their favorite subject: themselves. If you’re at a party, ask them how they know the host. If it’s a conference or networking event, inquire as to what line of work they’re in. Unless they’re total bores, this should give you plenty of material for follow-up questions. Who knows? You may even find some common ground. Maybe they like long-distance running as much as you do.
Always make eye contact. You know the type: They’ve just asked you where you got your sick shoes and as you proceed to tell them about this amazing sample sale you happened upon last week, you notice they’re not looking at you, but over your shoulder at the VIP who just entered the room. NEVER make people feel like you’re not interested in what they have to say. Not only is it rude, but it makes you look like a total social climber. And who wants that label?
Know when to fold ’em. Starting the conversation can be hard. Ending it can be sheer torture. You don’t want to just walk away, but at the same time you can feel that awkward silence approaching. Soon the two of you will have pained expressions on your faces as you desperately search for a way out. Don’t let it get to that point. Either bring someone else into the conversation and then gracefully move on, or say that you’re heading to the bar for a drink, but hope to catch up with them later on. (And hey, if you like the person, make sure that you do.)
As for me, I’ve been practicing my small-talk strategy, and the good news is it’s a lot easier than I thought it would be. Not to mention much more stimulating. Trust me, the walls just aren’t that interesting. But you probably knew that already.