Small Talk

What is the secret of successful small talk?

There are three important keys to the secret of successful small talk:

1. Start a conversation by saying something that will raise the atmosphere, i.e. you talk about something positive.

2. Use open questions which will require more than just a “yes” or “no” (such as “How did you do it?” “When did it happen?”)

3. Take an interest in other people and forget about yourself.

How do you conquer shyness?

I have helped several people overcome shyness either in performing presentations or feeling awkward about going to a party. To overcome shyness, you change the way you think and visualise yourself. Change your self-talk! One person told me she was invited to a reunion party with old school friends. She had been through a lot of sick periods and feared getting together with other people. She told me she could not go, because she would sweat, turn red in her face and stutter. I asked her to change her mind by visualising how she would enjoy the party, how she would be calm and in control. She went and was very successful making small talk. Social shyness is the most common mental illness in the United States. It affects 8% of adults and 5% of children according to recent research by American Psychological Association.

How important is attention?

Attention is probably the most important part of being successful making small talk. If you are genuinely interested in the other person, you will send out good vibes. The receiver will unconsciously feel that you are interested and be so happy about it that the conversation will flow. Remember, perception is projection.

Name a celebrity particularly good at it and explain how it comes through?

Years ago my family and I attended a performance by Victor Borge in the Opera House in Sydney. After the presentation we were invited to a “small talk” with him behind the scene. He was incredible! He asked us open questions; he paid full attention to us, remembered our names, and joked about our family relationship in his very special way of being funny. We all felt special and it was very much due to the way he showed interest in each of us. We will never forget that precious time with such a fantastic entertainer.

Please give me three gambits.

Depending on the circumstance, you can start up with one of the following suggestions: “How was your holiday?” – “What have you been doing since we met last time?” – “How has your year been?”

How do you fill the meat of a conversation – should you, say, research newspaper stories for fodder beforehand?

If you are going to meet people who are gathering for a specific purpose, I would recommend that you prepare by getting some information in that particular area so you can join the conversation and not stay there as an outsider. On the other hand, you can also be successful by asking people to fill you in on the topic. If it is a business meeting, I would certainly make some research before the meeting, if it is a private party, I just relax and use the above guidelines (being very interested in the other person etc.).

And how do you close a conversation?

You may like to join a few people during a party. To make the break, you could use the following phrases: “I must be going; – I have really enjoyed talking with you”. “I have enjoyed chatting with you, but I promised to catch up with a few other people before I leave”. Or, a simple close could be: “I really enjoyed our conversation and I am sure we will meet again.” If the conversation was of supreme interest for both partners, you may exchange business cards and arrange for a get-together in the future.

What specifically are the professional rewards of effective small talk?

Effective small talk can be invaluable in business life and in private life. Some years ago I gave lunch-hour talks in a company. After the presentation we had small talk over the sandwiches. One person kept my business card and called me three years later because he found out during that talk what other things I did. He brought his daughter to me to help her finding a way of remembering formulas. Together we developed a method I now use for study skills.

What would you say to those who assume it’s a waste of time?

I can only say that this is not the case. Small talk is the start of all relationships and a tool to improve confidence. We do depend on other people no matter what we are doing. Small talk is a skill and can be learned just as any other skill.

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