Tips For Making Small Talk Success By Debra Fine (2013 Showcase Speaker)

Stanford University School of Business conducted a study that monitored a group of MBAs 10 years after graduation. What did they learn? That their ability to converse had a huge impact on their success and grade point averages had no bearing whatsoever.

The ability to connect with others through small talk can lead to big things, according to Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk (Hyperion 2005). A former engineer, Fine recalls being so ill at ease at networking events and even the 10 minute coffee break during a meeting that she would hide in the restroom. Now a motivational speaker, Fine believes the ability to develop relationships with people through small talk is an acquired skill.

Fine offers the following tips for starting − and ending conversations:

  • Come up with three things to talk when preparing for a function along with a couple generic questions that will get others talking. If you’ve met the client before, remind yourself of things about her, such as a vacation she was headed to or specifics about her family.
  • Be the first to say “hello.” If you’re not sure the other person will remember you, give the gift of your name to help out. For example, “Jared Holst? Debra Fine… good to see you again.” Smile first and always shake hands when you meet someone.
  • Take your time during introductions. Make an extra effort to remember names and use them frequently. Exhibit host behavior by introducing others that join the group to each other.
  • Get another person talking by leading with a common ground statement regarding the occasion or location and then asking a related open-ended question. For example, “What do you hope to gain from this conference?” or “What have you heard about the speakers?” You can also ask them about their trip in or how they know the bride or groom.
  • Show interest in your conversational partner by actively listening and giving verbal feedback. Maintain eye contact. Never glance around the room while they are talking to you.
  • Listen more than you talk.
  • Be prepared to have something interesting to contribute. Staying on top of current events will provide you with great conversation builders, leading with “What do you think of?” Have you heard?” What is your take on?” Spare us from your opinion unless you remember to follow up with “What is your opinion?” or “Tell me your thoughts on …”
  • Be aware of your body language. People who look or act ill-at-ease make others uncomfortable. Act confident and comfortable even when you’re not.
  • Have a few exit lines ready, so that you can both gracefully move on. For example, “I need to check in with a client over there,” “I skipped lunch today, so I need to visit the buffet,” or “Who do you know at this meeting that could help me with …?

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