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Networking 101 – Making Small Talk

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Karl Smith, a business networking and referral coach says “The Ability to connect with others through small talk can lead to big things.”

Ain’t that the truth! Who would think that a casual meeting with someone, where there were no expectations, perceptions or hidden agenda’s can turn into something so much bigger.

Several years ago I attended several Intra-Africa Executive Breakfasts that were hosted by Upbeat Marketing, that were a platform for people to Network for ‘across border’ opportunities. I met people from all over Africa and also South Africa. I dined with Ambassadors and High Commissioners and CEO’s of big Corporate Companies here and there, and also ordinary folk like you and me, and I learned a lot. I spoke to random strangers that somehow ended up sitting next to me or sitting at the same table as me and learned about different cultures, different African cultures – it was illuminating!

I met a chap by the name of Richard from SAFM and through him ended up being interviewed on SABC International and because of that got calls, e-mails and messages from friends and family all over the world, who watched me being interviewed – that’s a biggie for me.

Sure, me being an introvert, made it really difficult to make conversation or chit chat with total strangers, but here’s the thing – small talk opens the door to getting friendships going. Small talks breaks the ice before people get serious enough to start discussing business. Small talk starts the whole process of building relationships. Small talk got Richard and I talking and that small talk lead to a big thing in my life.

So what is ‘small talk’ exactly?

Generally speaking, ‘small talk’ is considered to be ‘light’ conversation about every day common variety type happenings – so don’t be talking about politics or religion or sex – those will just get you into a huge mess. It’s about interesting things that you read in the paper or in a magazine – things that don’t require too much research or too much thought. Nonsencesickle (is that even a word) things that are amusing (as long as you are not disparaging anyone), that bring a smile to a face or that are topical to what is happening around us at the moment (I wonder what else we can talk about now that the Cricket saga has had it’s 15 minutes of glory?) It’s the type of conversation that people engage in at a cocktail party or the office party.

You see the thing is, it’s not always appropriate to talk about business. Meeting someone for the first time at a wedding for example, and launching yourself into your full business presentation, is not a good idea – chances are that by doing that you will ensure that that particular person may never want to see or even speak to you again. But telling a light antidote of something that was really amusing at the last wedding that you attended, to a table full of strangers who are sitting silently – shy to talk to each other because they have never met, is sure to get a conversation going as others start to tell of funny experiences that they may have had at weddings or birthday parties.

Sadly most people are not really any good at ‘small talk’ and when they have nothing to add to the conversation, they retreat even further into their shells – afraid to come out in case they make a fool of themselves. Even sadder is the fact that engaging in ‘small talk’ with someone usually gives them a first impression, a very accurate picture of who you are as a person. It reveals things like – do you listen attentively when someone talks to you? Do you express yourself eloquently or do you speak in dis-jointed words that confuse? Do you join in or hold yourself apart? Do you have an opinion that you are willing to share with others or do you just follow every one else’s opinion (even when there are some that hold opposing positions)?

From the way that you handle yourself with ‘small talk’, people will automatically perceive how you would go about the ‘business talk’.

So how do you go about becoming proficient at ‘small talk’?

Well some of the tips, I have already given you – read, read, read – the newspaper, magazines (and for goodness sake not the heavy financial ones – rather look at the gossip ones, the Kardashian’s latest antics usually bring out a smile to two). The internet is also always a huge resource of information. If you know you are going to meet a particular person – Google them, try and find out what their interests are and then hone up on that.

Remember though, conversation is something that happens between two or more people. It’s not a dialogue for one – let others also have a chance to say something or add to the conversation. This can be done by asking a question that doesn’t necessarily require a ‘yes or no’ answer, like a ‘what do you think of . . . . .?. Then step back and listen to the answer as well as the opinions of everyone else.

Making ‘small talk’, like everything else in life, takes practice, the more you practice the better you will become and the better you become, the more confident you will become.

So invest a few minutes every day in reading something light or interesting that you can share with someone. Get yourself engaged in ‘small talk’ with someone today and you’ll be sure to reap the benefits of something that could be really big in the future.