You probably know quite a few business people who are schmoozers, talkers, and just naturally seem to network. They seem to have mastered small talk, creating conversations and connecting with others. If none of this comes naturally to you, know that you’re not alone. Here’s a field guide to seven ways to create business small talk.
The personal introduction. If nothing else, tell people who you are and what you do, but expand slightly with a bit more information as a hook into small talk. If others become engaged wanting to know more, it leads to conversation.
Be observant and spontaneous. It’s unnatural to come across as over-prepared or rehearsed. Observe what people might be wearing (such as a watch or jewelry) or the surroundings and use it as a spark. Simply put, be in the moment!
Always have stories ready. One of the best ice-breakers (other than a polar bear) is a great story. Have a couple ready. Others might be nervous or unsure, and you can kick things off by making them feel comfortable.
Local connections. Take advantage of local connections to create commonalities. Everyone has an opinion of a local bar or restaurant and which are best and worst. It’s an instant conversation starter.
Sports, sports, sports. Based on where people are from or live, ask if they follow a team. Get them chatting about their favorite sport or team. Almost everyone plays fantasy football these days.
Shared interests. Sometimes you might know enough about the person to know their hobbies or interests. Otherwise, you can go to Facebook or LinkedIn to figure it out. Ask questions to find out (“Are you a runner?”) and bring out shared passions.
Mutual acquaintances. If you have time before meeting someone for the first time, go online to find out who you both know. If not, subtly explore shared background, locations or industries in small talk. A natural way to ease into conversation is a shared context.