Seek first to understand, then to be understood.
Small talk is a critical business skill, and if English is your second or third language, then you may experience challenges sometimes in feeling relaxed & confident when talking with people for the first time or networking, whether that is face to face, or online.
I led a workshop last week on English Small Talk Success for The Estonian Chamber of Commerce in Tallinn & so here are some of my top tips for English small talk success from this workshop.
What is small talk?
Small talk is an important conversation ritual, whether you have just met or known somebody a long time. You have the chance to get to know them personally & importantly you can connect.
The key is in the verb we use with ‘small talk’. We make small talk, rather than ‘do’ it in English, and this means we need to focus on creating a common bond through conversation.
How to be more English confident in small talk
Show ‘open’ signals: put away your phone, display open body language, look around the room & smile. See if you can catch the eye of somebody else standing by themselves before going over to talk to them.
Your goal is connection: be genuinely interested in the other people. Find out their story, why they are at the event/ meeting & what you have in common. Even if at first it does not seem you have similar interests, if you dig a little deeper, then you will find a link.
Curiosity First: start by being curious about the other person. My strategy is always to ask questions first & learn from the other person, rather than launching into talking about myself.
Ask yourself what is your ‘Dr Pepper moment’: this is how I approach challenging or risky situations. I ask myself the question from the ‘Dr Pepper’ drink advertising campaign: ‘What’s the worst that can happen in this situation?’
In small talk, the worst outcome is that you talk for a few minutes, find it hard to find the common connection, but potentially never see the person again. However, the positive outcomes of connection far outweigh your potential fears in the worst-case scenario.
Online small talk: a couple of logistical points will ensure that you have a better small talk experience & find it easier to connect to other people. Use a laptop or PC, not a mobile phone, so you can see others more clearly & it looks more professional. Connect via ethernet rather than rely on wifi, in case of any issues.
If you are on zoom, change your display name to include your name & your job title/ company, so people can easily see who you are & what you do when they first meet you. Look directly at the camera so people have the feeling you are looking directly at them & listening to what they say.
At the end of the day small talk is just conversation: so be authentically who you usually are. Do not feel like you have to come across in a certain way or impress people with what you say, do or are interested in. People want to talk to other people in a human way.
Smoothly joining a group in conversation
Some of my clients find it challenging to join groups, so here are a few principles to help you feel more confident in joining a group already in conversation.
Choose a smaller group of 2-3 people and physically move into the space confidently. Do not just stay at the edges where the group might not notice you.
Pause before you say anything & make sure you actively listen to the current conversation. Wait for a break in the conversation, catch somebody’s eye, smile, and ask, ‘Mind if I join you?’
When joining a group, build on the current topic by asking a question or offering a point of view. Do not just change the topic.
Be body language-aware: maintain eye contact, nod your head occasionally to show interest, smile, stand close, but not too close.
And finally, enjoy your small talk! Remember small talk is meant to be a relaxed conversation between people and should be a fun way to meet new people.
Which small talk tips are most useful for you? Do you have any other tips to share? Please feel free to reply & share.
If you are an international professional who finds small talk challenging, then book in with me for an individual small talk evaluation & masterclass, where we will cover:
- Strategies to start conversations
- Introductions with impact
- Ways to keep small talk going
- How to offer & request contact details
- Ways to end or exit the conversation smoothly
- Dealing with challenging situations
- Following up appropriately