Embracing Small Talk to Build Connections

Networking is extremely important for career development. However, it is also extremely stressful. Walking into a room full of strangers can be overwhelming, even for outgoing people. However, there is a way you can learn to overcome your fears and become a master of small talk, even if you’d rather get a root canal than network. Use these strategies to embrace small talk to build professional connections.

How To Master Small Talk For Networking

According to the book The It Factor: Be the One People Like, Listen to and Remember, by Mark Wiskup, networking should not be approached as unstructured social time (like at a party with friends). Rather, it should be approached as work. Therefore, small talk has a purpose. It moves you towards your end goal, so the first step is to reframe small talk as something necessary and worthwhile to help you build connections.

You probably know already that asking questions is critical for small talk, but asking any random question that comes to mind isn’t going to help you achieve your goal. Instead, stick to three universal topics that tend to open the door to more a meaningful conversation like:

  • Professions
  • Hometown
  • Hobbies and activities

How To Move The Conversation Along

Once you’ve chosen your topic, you can follow Wiskup’s strategy for facilitating a conversation:

  • Ask a broad question about the topic.
  • Follow up with a second, more focused question
  • Ask a third question to drill down on the topic.
  • Offer some information of your own based on what the other person has said.
  • Wrap with a fourth question.

So a conversation might go like this:

Q1: What do you do when you aren’t working?

Answer: I enjoy mountain biking.

Q2: Do you find that to be more relaxing or invigorating?

Answer: Both! It’s a great workout but being out in nature relaxes me.

Q3: I can see that. And how often do you get to ride?

Answer: I try to make it out every weekend and in the summer I do short rides during the week.

Q4: I have always wanted to get more into biking. Is it something you recommend a novice doing alone or with a group?

Answer: You can do both, but it’s easier to build a habit when you have others to do it with. There are several groups in the area that are welcoming of new cyclists. Let me give you the name of a group I used to ride with when I was a beginner.

This method works because it engaged the other person and keeps them talking, by asking follow-up questions you show genuine interest, and you dig below the surface level to lay the foundation for an actual professional relationship. It can also give you a reason to follow up with the person later.

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