Great Questions To Ignite Small Talk

Great Questions To Ignite Small Talk

Small talk kick-starts the networking process. Small talk, however, is about getting the other person talking. This begs the question: What are great questions to ignite small talk?

While there is no magic, planning is paramount. Be like an attorney – prepare your questions before you ask them. In other words, have a small handful of questions ready to go, each of which relates to the person’s life, either professionally or personally.

From there, allow the conversation to take itself wherever. A few of these questions could include…

  • What do you do? How long have you been doing it? How did you become interested in that?
  • What are some of the projects or assignments you are currently working on?
  • Are you from this area?
    • Yes – What part?
    • No – What brought you here?
  • Outside of work, what occupies you? How did you become interested in that?
  • What are some business or community organizations you are involved with?

These will give you a start. From here you might want to formulate your own series of questions. Note that these questions cannot be answered with a simple YES or NO. To generate conversation, questions must be open-ended.

And again, there is no magic. It is simply a matter of planning for how you will get and keep them talking.

Tips For Making Small Talk

Tips for Making Small Talk

Here is an important thing to understand: Small talk is NOT about filling idle time with interesting things to say. Small talk is about getting the OTHER person to fill idle time with things to say and you genuinely finding interest in it. But what if you don’t like making small talk or don’t feel like you’re very good at it? Fear not! Below are three tips for making small talk.

The key to success in small talk is having a simple, reliable game plan. Try this one:

Step One: Ask A Question

Now, remember, the key is to get them talking, so you need to be ready with questions that are open-ended. “Isn’t this weather crazy?” will not cut it. “How does this crazy weather affect you?” just might.

Step Two: Listen … Really Listen

Take an interest in what they have to say, even if the subject is not particularly interesting to you. Why? First, you just might learn something, something that could help you or something that you can use to help them (which ultimately helps you).

Second, (and this is counter-intuitive) if you take an interest in them and whatever they have to say, they will find you to be a very interesting person. It may sound backward but it’s just human nature. People tend to like those who show a genuine interest in them.

Step Three: Summarize & Share

As a follow-up (to show you were really listening), summarize what you have heard and then share a little about the subject as it relates to you. “So, as an avid water skier, all this hot weather must be great for you. But I find that it kills my golf game.”

Finally, just like the instructions on the shampoo bottle – lather, rinse, repeat – ask another question. Perhaps one that’s related to the first question or maybe some other tangent you would like to explore based on what they said in their answer. For example, “So, if you ski when the weather is hot, how do you occupy yourself when it is too cold to take to the lake?” Whatever, the case, keep them talking.

Why Is There Apprehension Towards Small Talk?

Apprehension Towards Small Talk

When it comes to building solid networking relationships, small talk is a powerful tool. Small talk opens the door to knowing, liking, and trusting another person. So, why is there apprehension towards small talk?

For many, the thought of engaging in small talk makes them anxious. This anxiety comes from one thing – FEAR. Fear of …

  • being rejected.
  • having nothing to contribute.
  • getting stumped (or running out of conversation).
  • getting stuck in a conversation with, well, that stranger that Mom warned you about.

FEAR NOT because the strangers your mother warned you about are no longer interested. You have plenty of things to contribute to a conversation and with a little planning and practice you will never get stumped (and if you do, there is a way out).

As for rejection, know this: Everyone has this fear. EVERYONE. Even the most well connected, confident person will tell you that, deep down inside, they have this apprehension. If everyone has this fear, then everyone will welcome you coming up and jumping into a conversation with them.

So, make someone’s day and take away their fear. Engage in some small talk.

How Does Small Talk Create Networking Bonds?

How Does Small Talk Create Networking Bonds?

Before you write off small talk as a waste of time, think about this question. How does small talk create networking bonds?

Think about it. How did you feel the last time you were at an event and someone started talking “brass tacks” right off the bat? “Who does your printing? Are you happy? I can do better. Give me a chance. Throw me some business. Well, why not?” If you’re like me, you were probably planning your exit strategy; some way to move on from this pushy salesperson.

Successful networking is built on small talk. It is through small talk that people gain an understanding of:

  • Who you are
  • What interests you
  • How you spend your time

And you learn the same about them. As an analogy, small talk is like the warm-up you do before you really get into the workout. And it is the foundation of the KNOW in Know, Like & Trust.

It is also the foundation upon which people gain a sense as to whether they LIKE you. In fact, social science and brain studies have shown that in the few minutes where chitchat is happening, people even start to formulate a sense as to whether or not they TRUST you.

So the next time you’re at an event, invest some quality time in small talk and start to create those networking bonds.

From Small Talk To Networking Success

From Small Talk To Networking Success

Let’s face it … small talk has a bad reputation. But what many do not realize is how to move from small talk to networking success. The bad reputation probably dates back to the continual chiding our mothers did relative to talking with strangers.

While her warnings were intended to protect us as children from those who would prey on our innocence, we are no longer kids. We are big boys and girls. We operate in the grown-up world where strangers become good friends, great clients, and even reliable vendors.

Even still, however, small talk gets a bad rap. Far too often people see it as idle chitchat that has no productive value in the professional world.

Understand this. Our entire personal and professional worlds are formed and held firmly together by networking. And small talk plays a big part in successful networking.

Mining Networking Events

Mining Networking Events

Networking events are generally not opportunities for closing business. While you may stumble upon a new client at an event, it’s likely that few if any clients will result from them. Rather than handing out business cards and hoping for success, try mining networking events instead.

What’s the secret to mining an event? Think about how a miner approaches his task. He doesn’t tap-tap here, then tap-tap there, hoping to find some gold. He selects a location where he suspects he’ll find what he’s after, then works that location for a while. As you embark upon networking at events, act like a miner. Do not consume yourself with meeting as many people as you can, collecting and distributing dozens of business cards (tap-tap, tap-tap). Instead, focus on really connecting with a small handful of people. Remember, meaningfully connecting is about the quality of the connection and not the quantity.

Also, remember that networking events are everywhere. Business after-hours are networking events. Tradeshows are networking events. Business parties are networking events. And so are social parties, tailgates, and really any gathering of people. Use each to expand your base of connections, from which you build relationships. Follow this strategy and you’ll be mining networking events in no time!

Was That Networking Event Worthwhile?

Was That Networking Event Worthwhile?

Have you ever left an event and asked yourself, “Was that networking event worthwhile?” In reality, the answer is “Absolutely!”. After all, every event offers value. Some offer more immediate value than others. They all have value, however.

Track your results however you deem appropriate. But before you completely pass judgment on an event, remember that the benefits of any networking activity may not present themselves for weeks, months, or even years. So keep track of who you met, follow through on any promises you made, and patiently wait to see what comes from your attendance at this event.

Don’t Foul Up The Follow-Up

Don't Foul Up the Follow Up

Networking events are wonderful. The conversations can be exhilarating. And the whole experience productive. With all the effort you put into the event, don’t foul up the follow-up!

Follow-up or follow-through regarding whatever you promised to. If you pledged to reconnect, do so. If you offered to introduce them, make it happen. If you indicated you would send them something, get it sent.

Know this, so few people follow through on what they say they are going to do. That is a sad, but true fact. Given that, if you are committed to doing so, you immediately elevate yourself ahead of a significant portion of the networking population. Remember, you can build a great network as long as you don’t foul up the follow-up.

Beyond Initiating Contact

Beyond Initiating Contact

Once you are beyond initiating contact at a networking event (making eye contact, smiling, and saying hello) one of two things will happen:

  1. Nothing will happen; the person will just move along. So what? Don’t take it personally. There are many reasons why they did not stop and none of them are related to you.
  2. They stop and are open to expanding the initial contact into a more meaningful connection.

When this happens, ensure to do these three things:

  1. Offer Your Hand: Offer your hand in anticipation of a handshake, the true first impression. The handshake should be firm, intersecting your thumb web with theirs. Not too firm; a bone crusher might serve to imply dominance. And not too soft; a “limp fish” may be interpreted as disinterest. Remember, it is better to not be remembered for your handshake than to be remembered for a bad one.
  2. Offer Your Name: As you shake hands, offer your name and be sure to enunciate your first name clearly. There are two reasons why this is important. First, unless it is someone you know well, offering your name serves to eliminate any potential embarrassment if the person doesn’t recall your name from an earlier encounter. Second, when you offer your name, they are likely to offer theirs in return.
  3. Clarify Their Name: If the person does not reciprocate when you offer your name, ask, “What is your name?” Regardless of how you came to know the person’s name, clarify it aloud, saying something like, “It’s great to meet you. Susan, right?” or “Hi, Susan. Do you go by Sue or Susan?”

So, as you move beyond initiating contact, these steps will help you better remember their name. In addition, it will subtly imply that their name is important to you, which it is.

Initiating Contact At Networking Events

Initiating Contact at Networking Events

When it comes to initiating contact at networking events, it is simply up to you. That is worth restating – it is up to YOU to initiate contact at a networking event. Alternatively stated, DO NOT wait (or expect) others to make contact with you. Making contact is 100% your obligation, if you want a productive experience.

There is no magic to initiating contact. It only involves three simple things.

  1. Make meaningful eye contact with people, where you look at them and they look you back in the eye. There is nothing strange about this. It is completely human.
  2. With eye contact established, smile. This is not a forced smile, but a genuine “It is good to see you” smile. Chances are human nature will kick in and they will smile back.
  3. With that eye contact and a smile, simply say, “Hello.” They may say “Hello” in return, or they may say nothing.

Whatever the case, it was your objective (as well as sole obligation) to initiate contact. You have done that. Congratulations!

This sounds simple and it is. Nevertheless, this may be a little out of your comfort zone. If it is, here is a great way to practice. Go anywhere there are people (for example, shopping) and simply wander around making eye contact, smiling, and saying, “Hello.” It may seem unnatural at first, but in time you will develop a level of comfort that you can utilize in a more professional setting.

So, armed with these three simple steps, get out there and start initiating contact at networking events. Who knows where a simple “Hello” might take you?