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What To Do When You Can't Avoid the Need for Small Talk

February 27, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 153

Although it's rarely the reason people come to me for coaching it inevitably crops up, especially as the person moves up the ladder into more senior roles, roles that require increased interaction with people outside the person's area of expertise. And I understand their trepidation all too well since I can remember the sinking sensation I used to experience when I would have to go to some business function that required me to mingle and talk to people I didn't know or feel any immediate affinity with. And since I'm an Introvert and not the mingling type by nature, such functions used to fill me with dread.

Since it became apparent that unless I wanted to remain in a junior role forever or become a hermit I would have to find a way to comfortably 'make small talk' without stressing my self out. After all, 'small talk' is the starting point for building nearly all relationships and healthy relationships are an important part of doing business. So began my search for ways to mingle and make 'small talk' with people that didn't require that I turn myself into an out-going boisterous Extravert but would help me foster and develop the relationships so necessary to success in a manner that I was totally at ease with.

What I discovered is that most books and advice on how to make small talk assumed that one already had the 'gift of the gab' and had no hesitation in following advice such as 'act like the host and make others feel comfortable' (not easy when I'm likely the most uncomfortable one there), 'tell an amusing storey' (I'm the type of Introvert that hates to draw attention to myself, so this makes my blood run cold), or 'it's a numbers game so put yourself out there and meet as many people as possible' (this 'hit and run' approach always turned me off). Advice like this was decidedly unhelpful, what I really needed was a way to use conversation to build relationships that felt authentic to me and fit my natural strengths.

Over the years I've found that the easiest way for me to 'make small talk' was to follow my natural inclination to be prepared. For me this means doing my homework and knowing about the event and the people who are going to be there. It also means having a way to open a conversation and something to talk about. Because I'm the type of Introvert that always thinks of just the right question or topic the next day, I plan ahead. I spend some time making a list of useful opening comments and questions under a few themes that I know I can enjoy discussing and am comfortable with. And to ensure I don't go completely blank and forget all my ideas I create n a 'memory jogger'.

When coming up with my memory jogger and key themes I first match the themes to whatever event it is I'm going to attend and make sure they are subjects that I feel really comfortable discussing. An example of several themes I might pick would be Relaxation activities, Educational background, Local attractions, Award winners, and Xtra-ordinary experience (OK, sometimes I play with the spelling - you'll see why in a moment). Once I have my themes picked out I develop a few questions or comments that I know could lead to interesting discussions that I would be comfortable with. Then I create a memory jogger to make sure I don't forget what I want to open a conversation about.

Memory joggers can be either a word or a sentence. For instance to remember the themes I used above I would use the word RELAX, an easy to remember word, especially as that is what I want to do at the event!. That makes the word a good choice for two reasons. First it does remind me to relax, always useful, and secondly the letters jog my memory about the themes I am prepared to talk about (Relaxation activities, Education, Local attractions (or personalities), Award winners - very appropriate at events where awards are being given out, and Xtra-ordinary experiences). All I need is a reminder of the theme and I know I'll be able to remember a prepared question or comment, since I've already done my homework on them.

If you think you would find it easier to remember a sentence, go through the same steps of identifying theme words that are suitable for the event and then create a sentence with each word starting with the first letter of one of your themes. For example, if I was going to a business meeting hosted by the regional economic development organization were there was a luncheon speaker talking about the use of social media, suitable themes that I would enjoy talking to someone about might include Social Media, both Personal and Business use, the Organization holding the event, Newsworthy items, People in the news and Sector leaders in local economy. To remind myself of my themes and possible questions or comments I would have already thought ahead of time I could use a sentence like "Some Monkeys Prefer Baseball Over Nebulous Performance Sports".

I've found that it's easier to remember a sentence if it's creates a silly mental picture for me as that makes the words stand out and that emphasizes the first letters of my prepared themes. While it does take a bit of preparation on my part it's well worth it as I no longer dread having to "make small talk". Instead, knowing I'm prepared I can relax and enjoy the event without worrying about being at a loss for words. Plus I've developed some great connections this way.

So if the fear of making "small talk" has ruined business meetings and held you back from participating in industry events, give this method a try. Once you've mastered it you'll never have to worry about looking tongue-tied again.

Karen Switzer-Howse

As a communication and leadership coach Karen works with rising stars and their organizations in the science and technology sectors, supporting them as they improve their communication and leadership skills while improving performance, productivity and profits and achieving more enjoyment and satisfaction in both work and life. To learn more about how you can enhance your communication and leadership skills to create personal and professional synergy for greater success, please visit

Source: EzineArticles
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