Though generally thought of as unimportant and surface-level, small talk can be crucial when it comes to establishing connections and relationships. In the world of business in particular, the gift of small talk can greatly enhance an entrepreneur's networking opportunities, possibly even resulting in new deals, partnerships or vendor relationships.
But knowing how to make small talk doesn't always come naturally, and using small talk to your advantage to further relationships and gain valuable connections is not as easy as it sounds. Here, seven entrepreneurs share their best tips for mastering the art of small talk as a business professional.
Inform yourself daily.
The great thing about small talk is that you can literally talk about anything, and one of the things most people tend to discuss is the daily news, Honest Paws co-founder Chelsea Rivera says.
"Dedicating a bit of your day to knowing what is going on in the world eliminates self-doubt in conversations with new people," Rivera explains. To achieve this, business leaders should subscribe to relevant news outlets that offer quick reads on what is going on around the world daily.
Put a question mark on it.
"I started off with a huge small-talk advantage -- my dad is Italian," says Propaganda Premium E-Liquid co-founder Nicholas Denuccio, explaining that as an entrepreneur, this genetic gift comes in very handy when it comes to connecting well with others.
"Ask more questions than you answer. Whether talking with mentors, vendors or customers, ask a lot of interested (not nosy) questions. You'll learn a lot," Denuccio suggests. As an added bonus, when you ask people about themselves, they will think you are the best conversationalist alive, he says.
Look for anomalies.
Common Giant founder Phillip Oakley agrees: "People like to talk about themselves." Entrepreneurs can leverage this fact to improve their small talk skills, and one way to achieve this is by observing something unique about the other person and asking them about it.
Do they use a fun phone case? Are they wearing sneakers with dress pants? Do they have interesting tattoos? These are just a few examples of topics that could serve as conversation starters. "Often, you can get them to open up about their interests, and find something relatable," Oakley adds.
Express genuine interest.
No matter what approach you choose, the key is to make it genuine, according to Craft Impact co-founder and CEO Traci Beach. "Make a point to repeat the other person's name back to them. This helps disarm them and build rapport, so it's important to remember someone's name, and to use it throughout a conversation," she recommends.
In addition to repeating their name, it's essential to ask the other person about themselves as a way to engage them better and keep the conversation going. "Expressing genuine attention and interest helps build relationships of trust," Beach explains.
Ask questions that create emotion.
"Small talk is 'small' because it is emotionally neutral communication without real depth on noncontroversial subjects," says Justin Faerman, co-founder of Conscious Lifestyle Magazine.
But that doesn't mean it should stay that way -- according to Faerman, you can add in emotional depth without touching on controversial subjects, which transforms small talk into truly deep, authentic and meaningful connections. "To do this, ask questions like 'What do you love about [the subject at hand]?' and watch the magic happen."
Get comfortable with pauses.
The art of small talk is not only about conversing, but also about learning how to be comfortable with pauses in conversation, thinks WPBeginner co-founder Syed Balkhi.
"It's fairly common for small talk to die down, leading to an 'awkward' pause in conversation. However, pauses don't have to be awkward," Balkhi says. "It's OK to let a moment or two of silence to pass by and to think rather than fill it up with words. Be comfortable with silence and start a new topic when you've had time to think."
Make it a habit.
"I come from a culture where small talk is not a thing," says Karl Kangur, founder and CEO of Above House, adding that no matter how much he practiced at conferences, it never felt genuine.
But the only way to overcome this obstacle is to practice more, which is why Kangur's mentor advised him to have more random interactions with people in his daily life, from the building security to the barista or the electrician. "This not only changed my interactions in business and at conferences, but also opened up many new doors in my personal life," he explains.