I'm really good at small talk.
Weather. Travel. Food. Downton Abbey.
See? Look how interesting I am.
Except, I'm not. Well, I am - but you wouldn't know from small talk.
You can't make yourself interesting in small talk.
The nature of small talk is to be uninteresting. Generic. Innocuous. It's the method humans have settled on in polite society to create bonds without offending anyone or being vulnerable.
I'm good at small talk because I loathe it. And thus, I don't let it remain small. If you want to be interesting, learn to do this too.
How? Make small talk into big talk. Make it meaningful.
1. Ask an easy lead question.
Where are you from? I love this one because there is so much great conversation that can come from it.
Others might be:
- Is this your first . . . (if you meet at an event).
- Something topical that you'd both know about given your circumstances (a speech, a person, weather, a meal).
- I sometimes comment on someone's name or outfit -- whatever I find interesting.
2. Ask a follow-up question.
You asked, Where are you from? They tell you. Follow up with What's it like this time of year? How long have you lived there? Do you like living there? Has it changed much in the past 20 years? (Most places have and this is always interesting).
The purpose of a follow-up is to let the person know you are interested in them and to prompt them with an easy conversation topic so you can engage.
3. Use physical communication to show interest and emotion.
Imagine a robot saying "I find you interesting." Creeepy. Words alone don't work. To convey a genuine sense of interest, you have to emote.
That's interesting. Really? How did that work? And show interest, surprise. Lean forward. Make eye contact. Show them that you are listening and care.
(Just don't flirt -- not appropriate.)
4. Offer your opinion and an anecdote.
Don't be afraid of saying "me too" or "that happened to me!". When I say "opinion" I don't mean religion or politics. I mean affirming what they said and relating to it. This forms a bond. Obviously, only if it's true.
Nothing wrong with it but you might want to say "I'm so sorry for interrupting" after you interrupt. Just in case.
5. Have a "What do you do?" answer ready to go, in simple terms your grandmother could understand.
When someone asks you what you do -- and they will -- don't think on the spot, have the answer ready. Say it in simple terms. Nothing kills a conversation like someone using industry speak to another person not in the industry. It makes you sound pompous, not impressive.
6. Some people are impenetrable. Don't fret. Move on.
I can talk to anyone. But there are a few people who are as dull as toast. No, that's an insult to toast. Dull as as a toaster that doesn't have toast.
You won't connect with everyone. No one does.
Above all, this is critical and the most important thing you can do:
BE INTERESTED IN THE PERSON YOU'RE TALKING TO.
Actually care. That is the secret.
Small talk is a way to get to know interesting people. Not to show you're interesting.
People don't judge you based on your resume; they judge you based on how they connect with you. Care about them; you'll connect with them.
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