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October 14, 2010

Do you ever find it difficult to engage in small talk?  How do you feel  when you walk into a room full of people you don’t know?  Do you stand on the sidelines waiting for someone to come and talk to you?  How do you engage in conversation?

It’s easy…just start talking and asking questions.  Okay, maybe it’s not that easy, but the savviest conversationalists ask lots of questions.  They show genuine interest in the other person; they laugh at any jokes; they think of ways to understand and compliment the situation.  They seem to know every current event and historical moment in time.  You almost want to be a fly on the wall to watch them in action.

Well, you can do it too.  How? 

1. Read – Take a few minutes out of each day to catch up on current events in your field.  (Networking tip:  If you find something interesting about a company in which you have a contact, be sure to “ping” them by sending them the information.)  Pay attention to things you overhear from TV, the newspaper, people chatting on the street, and things you hear in any training sessions; jot things down that you need to look up or interesting tidbits of information.  All of these things can provide you with interesting topics to use as you engage in conversation. Do your research – If you are going to a meeting with a large group of people, research the topic at hand, the people invited, and utilize Linked In to find out about those people, their companies, interests and way in which you share commonalities. 

2. Know yourself – Remember that a conversation goes both ways so have interesting things to talk about.  What are you good at?  What are your talents?  Why are you interesting?

3. Engage – You’ve got to go for it.  Begin the conversation by introducing yourself, and then allow the other person to introduce himself or herself so that you can include his/her name in the conversation.  It shows that you are interested in that person. 

What about when you walk into a room of people you don’t know and you are supposed to be there to “network”…what do you do?   Now, if you are like me, you like to take in the situation, stand back for a little bit to assess the situation before engaging…somewhat like a Lioness before she leaps for her kill…only kidding.  I really like to look at the room, the people in the room, and the organization of the people to decide where I want to begin, and then I approach a group or person and introduce myself and take it from there.  One of my wonderful mentors told me something that really resonates with me regarding engaging with people in a group setting.  Think in terms of putting the other person at ease.  They are just as nervous and unsure of themselves as you, but you can help with that by being the one to initiate the conversation.

4. Listen –  Ahh the lost art of listening…There is nothing worse than someone who completely dominates every conversation.  Listen and allow them to tell their stories.  Act interested and entertain questions.

5. And finally, Practice, Practice, Practice…oh and have I mentioned that you need to practice?  Just go for it!  If it flops…oh well!  Try again with someone new, taking in what you learned from the last experience.  If the conversation is not going where you want it and you have Dudley Doorknob on the other side, just excuse yourself politely and make a restroom stop or grab a drink.  Then you can engage with someone new.  Not every conversation you have will be a great conversation with small talk, deep insight, and magical inspiration.  Learn from each of your conversations. 

Before you know it, you will be the King or Queen of small talk! 

SC

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