Tips For Improving Small Talk

Tips for Improving Small Talk

Small Talk is an art. Like any art, you can improve how you do it through practice. But it can be helpful to have some ideas for how to make small talk feel more comfortable and be more effective. Here are some tips for improving small talk.

  • THINK … On the way to an event (a party, meeting, or another social gathering) or when you have some idle time, work through in your mind how you envision your small talk going. Review in your mind the questions you will ask. Visualize yourself listening to the speaker, summarizing what they say, and sharing your own wisdom or experience.
  • LISTEN … Small talk is all around you, every day. Listen to it, especially when you notice someone who’s good at it. See how they flow from one question to the next and how they transition from small talk to business then back to small talk again before exiting the conversation.
  • ENGAGE … Take every opportunity to engage in small talk. When you are in line at the store check out. With a server in a restaurant. With the receptionist at your next appointment. You will find the more you engage in small talk, the more comfortable you get at it.

The most important thing you need to do to be good at small talk is developing an attitude of belief. Periodically, you need to tell yourself, “I can carry a conversation and I’m good at it. I enjoy how it lifts the spirits of others. And I love what it is doing for my networking. I can carry a conversation.” So at your next event try to use one or more of these tips for improving small talk.

Small Talk To Big Business

Small Talk to Big Business

Remember, small talk is the warm-up that leads to the workout. The workout is talking business. To make this happen, eventually, you need to transition from small talk to real business.

When this moment comes, you will know. At some point in your exchange there will be a lull. Use this moment to get at a more meaty discussion on business (whatever that might be).

Be forewarned, however, this is not to suggest that you start to pitch them or set them up for a close. It merely suggests that once you have them comfortably engaged in conversation, you should ease into a more professional discussion of their business or yours.

For example, a nice segue might be, “Water skiing isn’t cheap! What do you do professionally to pay for it?”

Do not try to steer them. For example, a business coach, should not ask, “Do you use business coaches in your business?” A financial advisor, should not open with, “How is your 401K doing these days?” A promotional products person should not jump to “How do you use ad specialty items in your business?”

Do NOT push it. Keep the tone light and the sales probing to a minimum. If you do this right, you will have lots of opportunities to gather future business intelligence, pitch them, and close them.  Remember, people do business with those they Know, Like & Trust.

Return To Small Talk

After the professional conversation has run its course but before the conversation ends, touch back on something related to your small talk conversation.

For example: “Great talking with you. Assuming, you don’t get laid up in the hospital skiing between now and then, I would enjoy continuing our conversation over a cup of coffee sometime.”

Why is this important? By returning to small talk, you have demonstrated that you were listening and that you remembered. More subtly, however, you are reflecting back to a part of the conversation when they likely delighted in your interest in them.

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.

I’m In A Conversation. Now What?

I'm in a conversation. Now what?

You’re at a networking event and you think, “OK. So, I’m in a conversation. Now what? Should I keep talking to this person or move on to someone new? How many people should I be meeting today?”

As wonderful as chatting with a connection at a networking event is, do not burn out the conversation. This is not to say that you need to use the event to pass out handfuls of your business cards and collect handfuls in return. That is not productive either.

It just says that you should attempt to connect enough with the person so that you are both comfortable continuing the conversation another time. Perhaps that is at the next event. Perhaps that is over coffee the next week. Whatever the case, talk for 15-20 minutes, get their contact information and pledge to get back to them.

This will allow you the opportunity to meet and connect with other people. To this end, when you find a lull in the conversation, simply suggest to them:

“I would love to keep talking, but …

  • “I don’t want to occupy your whole time …”
    • “There are a couple people I need to connect with before the event is over;” or,
    • “I promised myself that I would meet three new, great contacts today … you make one and now I need to find two others.”

“If you do not mind, however, I would like to reach out to you later this week (early next week) and arrange a time where we can continue this conversation.”

152) Returning To Small Talk

Returning to Small Talk

Great conversations start with small talk. It warms up the mood, right? Then at some point the dialogue shifts to business – a non-salesy exchange of general information.

However, after the professional conversation has run its course, before the conversation ends, it’s important to touch back on something related to your small talk conversation.

For example:

“Great talking with you. Assuming, you don’t get laid up in the hospital skiing between now and then, I would enjoy continuing our conversation over a cup of coffee sometime.”

Why is this important? Simple. By returning to small talk in this way, you have demonstrated that you were listening and that you remembered.

More subtly, however, you are reflecting back to a part of the conversation when they delighted in your interest in them. And, that can do nothing but help endear them to you.


Like what you’ve read? Prefer to hear it as a podcast or daily flash briefing? Subscribe to the Networking Rx Minute podcast here or wherever you get your podcasts.

155) Seeking Conversation

Seeking Conversation

Why do you go to networking events? There are probably lots of potential reasons. And those reasons change from event to event and from one time to another.

One reason you don’t go to networking events, however, is to stand by your lonesome and quietly sip your coffee or whatever. Of course not.! You’re there to engage in conversation.

This begs the question:  How do you seek out people to talk to at events?

Know this: It is much easier to engage one person in conversation than a whole group.

So, when you arrive at an event or whenever you find yourself without someone to talk to, look for that person standing alone.

You know what? Chances are, that person is hoping for someone just like you to engage them in conversation. So, at next networking event, look for that person and go make a friend.


Like what you’ve read? Prefer to hear it as a podcast or daily flash briefing? Subscribe to the Networking Rx Minute podcast here or wherever you get your podcasts.

LinkedIn Active Use 3 of 4

The third active use of LinkedIn is to add value by contributing content. Think for a moment about how you might conduct yourself at a traditional networking event. You stand around talking with people. You start discussions and you contribute to discussions that others have started. You answer questions that others ask, and you ask questions that you look for others to answer. LinkedIn provides this same opportunity for its users.

If you go into any of the groups you have joined, you will see that there are usually numerous discussions going on. Jump in and add value.

This does NOT mean pitch yourself or your product. It means share an opinion or insight. Offer a solution to a problem. Share your experience as it relates to the discussion.

In networking (whether traditional or online), adding value in this manner is critical to keeping you on the minds of others. People want to associate with those who add value, as they cannot help knowing, liking and trusting you.

Creating A Referral Machine 6 of 7

If you do a spectacular job educating your network on recognizing referrals, great. That, however, is not enough. You need to empower them with the ability to talk to prospective clients about what it is you do.

For example, if they recognize that the displaced executive is a potential client to refer to you, great. Encourage them to strike up a conversation with the person (and they will if they know, like and trust you). And transition into a discussion about franchising. Here is an example:

“I am sorry you are in transition. What is your next move? Have you considered becoming your own boss? I understand that franchising is almost a fool-proof means of successfully being in business. I know a great franchise broker … there is no obligation to meet with him and his services are essentially free, as the franchisors pay his fees.”

In addition to general conversation, empower your referral machine with non-technical buzz words and catch phrases about your industry (as well as what they mean) … Franchise Fee … Ongoing Royalties … FDD … Earnings Claim … Discovery Day.  Your network should know enough to talk about what you do but not enough to do it.

Finally, encourage your network to hook you into the situation. In short, encourage the person to talk about you in a connecting sense. Returning to the example from before “I know a great franchise broker. There is no obligation to meet with him and his services are essentially free, as the franchisors pay his fees.”

241) Hold Your Fire

Imagine this: You’re at an event, standing with someone new. Someone great. Someone you’ve longed to connect with. And before long, you’re engaged headlong in conversation. In fact, you’ve done well. You’ve got them talking. Awesome, right?

But then, in your excitement, before they finish, you interject, cutting them off. UGH! This is not only potentially embarrassing, but your conversation partner might perceive that you aren’t terribly interested in listening. And you don’t want that.

Consciously focus on what the other person is saying. Hear them out.  Do not jump to conclusions about what is being said. Listen for details or clues as to where they might like the conversation to go.

Then, take a deep breath. Yes, take an actual deep breath before you respond. A second of silence won’t kill the conversation. Rather, that brief moment will allow you to have a better response, which will lead to a better conversation and the perception that you’re truly listening. This serves to build the relationship.


Like what you’ve read? Prefer to hear it as a podcast or daily flash briefing? Subscribe to the Networking Rx Minute podcast here or wherever you get your podcasts.


Small Talk To Big Business

Remember, small talk is the warm-up that leads to the work out. The workout is talking business. To make this happen, eventually you need to transition from small talk to real business.

When this moment comes, you will know. At some point in your exchange there will be a lull. Use this moment to get at a more meaty discussion on business (whatever that might be).

Be forewarned, however, this is not to suggest that you start to pitch them or set them up for a close. It merely suggests that once you have them comfortably engaged in conversation, you should ease into a more professional discussion of their business or your business.

For example, a nice segue might be, “Water skiing isn’t cheap! What do you do professionally to pay for it?”

Do not try to steer them. For example, a business coach, should not ask, “Do you use business coaches in your business?” A financial advisor, should not open with, “How is your 401K doing these days?” A promotional products person should not jump to “How do you use ad specialty items in your business?”

Do NOT push it. Keep the tone light and the sales probing to a minimum. If you do this right, you will have lots of opportunities to gather future business intelligence, pitch them, and close them.  Remember, people do business with those they Know, Like & Trust.

Return To Small Talk

After the professional conversation has run its course but before the conversation ends, touch back on something related to your small talk conversation.

For example: “Great talking with you. Assuming, you don’t get laid up in the hospital skiing between now and then, I would enjoy continuing our conversation over a cup of coffee sometime.”

Why is this important? By returning to “small talk”, you have demonstrated that you were listening and that you remembered. More subtly, however, you are reflecting back to a part of the conversation when they likely delighted in your interest in them.