Women making small talk

Small talk: it can be the key that opens doors or the deadlock that shuts them. As any twenty-something knows, it comes up in both personal and professional scenarios, and we need to know how to handle them without sounding like an awkward ninny. Here are my tried and true tips that you can test out during your next public foray (let me know how it goes!):

  1. Decipher what you have in common. If it’s a birthday party, you both know the host. If it’s a work event, you’re probably in the same field. Use this as a conversation opener next time you’re wedged next to someone you don’t know. Make eye contact, smile and then it’s as simple as, “How do you know Mark?” or “What’s your publishing niche?” Listen carefully to the answer, because …
  2. … it’s your best shot at crafting a conversation that flows. Take note of specific facts they reveal, places they mention, people they know, and use them to branch off into other areas. If something intrigues you, ask for more info. If something confuses you, clarify. If and when they turn the focus on you, try and reference something they said within your answer. It keeps it from sounding like a rehearsed speech and turns the conversation into a Lego project rather than a tennis match.
  3. Don’t be so anxious that you forget this is ideally a two-person effort. If you’re too focussed on remembering and executing your pre-prepared conversation topics, you might miss an important nuance of the conversation. Even worse, the person you’re talking to might feel you’re not paying attention to them. Take a deep breath and listen carefully. The best clues emerge from the conversation you’re having, not the one droning on in your head.
  4. When your conversation winds down, whether it’s because someone is calling you over or the presentation is about to start, don’t walk away without introducing yourself and, if appropriate, exchanging business cards, especially if this seems like a connection you want to maintain.  At the very least, it’s polite to exchange names, if only so you can say, “Nice talking to you, Sarah!” It’s a little extra touch that’s not only courteous but memorable–especially if you remember their name next time you see them.
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And when even the best small talk advice doesn’t work? You can pull out every trick in the iBook and it still won’t always be enough. When this happens, excuse yourself politely and walk away. There’s someone else just on the other side of the room; in the words of William E. Hickson, “Try, try, try again!”