Whether it’s a team meeting, networking session or job interview, saying the wrong things at the wrong time can have disastrous consequences.
Striking up a conversation with someone you have nothing in common is no easy task, and it’s not unusual for introverts to avoid it altogether. But no matter how terrifying the prospect feels, we all must do it at some point.
Here are 4 tips to help you make conversation with virtually anyone, and in any situation.
Practice is key
Small talk should feel breezy, so work at it while you’re feeling relaxed and are in a casual pressure-free environment. For example, making small talk with a client before a meeting can be daunting, but chatting with the office receptionist every morning might be just the practice you need.
What also helps is doing research beforehand, if know who you’re meeting. Think of questions you can ask people, and read up about their companies. If you run out of ideas, keep the conversation general and steer clear of polarising topics including but not limited to politics. Controversial topics never make for good small talk.
Prepare in advance
Another way to glide through interactions is to prepare one-line answers to common small talk questions people ask such as, “Do you have holiday plans?”, “How’s work going?”, or “What did you do on the weekend?”. Avoid giving “yes” or “no” answers, instead be straightforward and try revealing something about yourself.
The worst thing you can do is look bored and uninterested. Maintaining eye contact and nodding frequently will show that you’re interested and will motivate the talker to keep going. Also, don’t slouch or fidget – it makes you appear distracted when you need to look like you’re listening and enjoying the conversation.
Exit like a pro
While small talk is important, some people have the tendency to go on and on. If you’re at a networking event, end your conversations by telling them how nice it was to meet them, and be sure to exchange business cards.
Things can be a little trickier if it’s a one-on-one meeting with your boss or client. Tread carefully and gear the conversation to business at hand saying, “I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on the proposal I sent last week,” is a good way to get to the point.