The Art of Talking Small

December 4th, 2010 No Comments

As we are out and about meeting people and building our networks, there is often a need for a bit of small talk to start off our conversations. If you are stuck for something to say to break the ice, here is an acronym that I remember to work off of. Think of the word CHAT and use that to help you ask a question to begin the dialog.

C – Career
What do you do for a living?
What sort of work do you do?
What has been a highlight of your career?
What are your favorite parts of your job?
What is your career direction currently? What do you foresee in the future?
What is the future of your industry?
Who are your biggest competitors?
What is your strategy to address your competition?
What was your first job?
What job has been your favorite job ever?

H – Hometown
Where are you from?
Where do you live now?
What do you like best about where you live now?
What is the favorite place you have ever lived? Why did you like it so much?
Where have your lived the longest?
If you had your choice of anywhere, where would you live?

A – Achievements
What was your greatest accomplishment so far in your career?
What is the most interesting project you have ever worked on?
What sorts of projects are you working on?
What skills are you known for?
If you were to move to another area of the organization, which group would interest you?

Or if your conversation is more casual, try:

A – Animal

Are you a dog or a cat person?
What is your favorite pet?
Tell me about the funniest thing your pet ever did.

T – Time off

What do you do when you have time off?
What is an ideal weekend to you?
What are your hobbies or interests?
Where have you vacationed recently?
Do you prefer active outdoor vacations or sight seeing?
What has been a favorite vacation spot?
How far have you traveled away from home?
Tell me about your favorite vacation.
Where would you like to vacation in the future?
Have you visited any of our national parks?
What is the most captivating city you have ever visited?
Where did you see your best sunset ever?

Anyone can start a conversation with any of these questions and/or your own variations. Then after asking a question, most importantly, your focus is to listen. People love to talk about themselves. Keep it going by asking additional questions about what they have said while throwing in some of your own stories, experiences and thoughts. A natural back and forth of conversation.

Listening is the key. Ask a question, sit back and be the listener. Let the conversation be about the person you are speaking to. You will become known as a good conversationalist if you concentrate on listening. Listen with your full attention, natural eye contact, and body language. Don’t try to jump in or interrupt with your story or your similar experience or advice until it is comfortable to switch off. Just listen and nod and say “ah ha” or “um hm” as appropriate. Really be in control of your body language, don’t look around the room at others you want to meet, focus on the person you are talking with at the moment. Be fully present, fully listen. You will learn more about the other person if you actively participate by listening. That’s your objective, learn about the other person’s interests, find some commonalities between the two of you, and remember a few things about each person you talk with. Then it will be easy for you to contact them later on. You will have a reason to followup. People are honored when you remember things about them, something about your conversation. These details indicate that you care about them as a person.

As my Starbucks cup said yesterday morning, “I talked to a stranger for an hour over coffee. We’re not strangers any longer.”

As you make your rounds in a group, smile to welcome others. Have an open body posture. Take a slow deep breath in and out. Think of the word “CHAT” (Career, Home, Achievement or Animal, Time off) and you will be comfortable approaching anyone to start a conversation. Don’t take yourself too seriously, practice, and use your unique sense of humor. Be your natural self, loosen up, have some fun with it!

Building relationships with conversation is foundational to all aspects of our lives; small talk and listening lead to real conversation.

Ann Smith is a professional trainer and coach focusing on career strategies, leadership and communication and employee engagement.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Reply