It can sometimes feel nerve wracking to join a group of people, most of whom you don’t know, at a social or networking event. Telling yourself: “I’m no good at small talk. I won’t know what to say” will almost certainly make things worse. However there are many things we can do to help ourselves and the people we meet to enjoy the occasion. Here are some of the most important things to remember:
IT’S JUST A CHAT!
Meeting new people is a pleasant way of passing the time and sharing your experiences and views. It should not be an ordeal and thinking of it this way will inevitably make it one. Small talk is rarely a prelude to becoming close friends with anyone. It’s just a chat! But you might find out something interesting or something amusing. Or you might make a contact that could help you in the future, or the other way around.
Most people are delighted if someone comes to talk to them. Prepare a small number of opening questions in your mind so that you don’t have to think about it under pressure. These can be very simple such as: “Hi, I’m Michael / Michelle, what’s your name?” “How do you know (the host of the party)?” “This is a nice house / restaurant / hotel, isn’t it?” etc.
Have a few prepared answers to describe yourself in different circumstances, both work-related and outside work. So think about your answers to the questions: “What do you do?” “Why did you choose that profession?” What are your interests / hobbies?” and know in advance how you are going to reply. Give specific, rather than vague answers.
THAT SOUNDS INTERESTING!
The big secret to successful small talk is to concentrate on being interested, rather than interesting! So listen closely to what the other person has to say, rather than worry about what you are going to say next. Visual clues that you are listening (such as good eye contact and nodding) are best supplemented by verbal clues that you are paying attention, such as: “uh-huh” “mmm-hmm” “oh, you’re kidding” “that’s amazing!” “then what happened?” etc.
BECOME A CONVERSATIONAL DETECTIVE
Look for clues in each remark about where next to take the conversation. For example, talking about the rain if they were to say: “If I wanted this much rain I’d live in the Lake District”, you could reply “Oh, do you go to the Lake District much? Where in the Lakes do you like to go?” Or if they were to say “I suppose it’s good for the garden”, you could reply “Oh do you have a garden. What do you grow – flowers or vegetables?”
USE THEIR NAME
Most people’s favourite word is their own name. They can pick it up across a noisy, crowded room. When you meet someone for the first time, find out their name early in the conversation and then use it from time to time to create rapport. Mirroring their body language (for example touching your chin if you notice them doing that) can help create the same effect.
COMPLIMENTS / NOTICING SOMETHING ABOUT THE OTHER PERSON
Almost everyone feels insecure to some extent about the way they look, especially women. Complimenting something about their appearance or manner is both a kind and friendly thing to do. Examples could be: “Oh I do like your…. Where did you get it?” or “You have a great laugh!”
REVEAL SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF
Don’t be too guarded: People warm to those who share a little private information about themselves as long as they are not being boastful or apologetic. You can prepare for this to some extent by writing down a list in advance of your favourite activities, films, types of music, books, sports personalities, places you’d like to visit, TV programmes, etc – so that you don’t have to think about it on the spot. A dull reply to a question such as “What type of music do you like?” is “Nothing in particular. I like all sorts”. An interesting reply is “My favourite artist is Beyonce! I love that song ‘Put A Ring On It’! Do you know it?”
Good luck! Enjoy yourself! It’s fun to meet new people!
…And if you’d like help to to overcome your shyness in this and other ways, please contact me about my Confidence Coaching Programme. It would be good to hear from you.
© Horizons Life Coaching, 2018