3 Steps to making small talk

Never know how to kickstart or keep the conversation going at an industry function? There’s a certain skill to the art of chit-chat, and these pointers will have you breezing through work events and making new contacts like a pro.

Networking

If you haven’t got the gift of the gab, it’s worth making the time to develop the skill. It can help further your career (you never know whom you’ll meet at that industry conference) and will naturally spill over to help improve your social life, too (no more awkward moments standing by the punch bowl with a silent stranger).

Ask the right questions

Most people love to talk about themselves — or, at the very least, it’s an easy subject if they’re lacking in the conversation department themselves. To get it started, ask big, open-ended questions, ones that require more than simple, one-word answers. Don’t simply ask if they attended the last seminar but rather how they’re finding the conference as a whole, for example.

However, be wary of shooting off question after question: This can be off-putting. You need to add to the conversation by including your perspective, or else the other person will feel like they are being interrogated.

And, of course, ask and talk about things you actually have an interest in. Chit-chatting about topics you don’t genuinely care about may come across as empty and fake and will stilt the conversation.

Be a good listener

At the beginning, you may find yourself nervously thinking about what to ask or talk about next, so much so that you don’t hear what the other person is saying. Actually listening to the other person is crucial; nothing will kill the conversation faster than you seeming distracted or bored. Plus, listening to what the other person is saying will give you inspiration for what to ask next, or what to add to keep it rolling.

Rehearse and have a few topics ready

While you definitely want to come off as natural, at the beginning it’s OK to practise a little bit on your own. It may help you feel more confident, and you’ll be more comfortable filling any lulls in the conversation if you have a few current topics up your sleeve. So, brush up on the latest news stories, and consider relevant personal anecdotes of your own that you can share.

More career tips

Career networking is like dating — only better
Why you should network more
11 ways to avoid awkward conversations

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