I’m not fond of forced small talk. There, I said it. I particularly don’t look forward to entering a room full of strangers and talking about myself.
Like at a networking event, where everyone is delivering their commercial like automatons.
But I do small talk at networking events, and I’m pretty good at it most of the time.
Small talk is important in professional pursuits; it leads to deeper conversation. An excellent article, Hate Small Talk? One Approach Anyone Can Use, talks about how to approach people and help them engage; thus, helping them conduct small talk and, as a consequence, help you with your small talk.
Jeff Hadden is the author of this article. In it, he writes: “I dread the thought of walking up to people I don’t know and making small talk. Not because I don’t like people, but because in that situation I really don’t like me. I’m not outgoing, I’m not gregarious, not extroverted. I’m the ultimate wallflower.”
I love honest writing, especially when it illustrates how I feel. But here’s the rub: introverts have to improve their small talk abilities, regardless of their comfort level or desire. Small talk generates business and the job-search leads.
If, like me, small talk doesn’t come easy, this is what can you do about it.
1) As the author of the aforementioned suggests, approach someone who is struggling to engage. Here’s how it might go: “Hi. I’m Bob. What do you think of the event?”….”Yeah, it is crowded in here.” Where’re you from?”….”No kiddin’? I’m from Lowell, a small city north of Boston…” This can lead to your elevator pitch…or not.
2) I’m fond of asking questions. My kids think I’m weird, like I’m interrogating them; but it gives me some fodder to respond to. I tell my workshop attendees I’m the King of Asking Questions. “So, what brings you here?” “What do you think of the guest speaker?” “You’re from Tampa (noticing name tag). What’s the weather like down there at this time?” Just remember not to sound like you are interrogating your fellow networkers; allow them to ask you questions, as well.
3) Go prepared to an event by arranging a date or two. I’m going to an event on Tuesday, so I invited a guy I know to attend with me. I’ve got someone with whom to talk if nothing is happening, as well as someone to introduce. “You need help with your website? I’d like to introduce you to John. He’s a wiz at fixing websites.” If the conversation takes off, great for John. But now I’m alone, unless my second date is there.
4) Don’t bother working the room. There’s no law that says you have to collect 10 business cards, most of which will go into the circular file cabinet when you get home. You might meet someone with whom you have a great deal in common, perhaps there are business or job-search benefits to explore. Great. I’m not trying to give you an out here, just a semblance of success.
If you were to ask me where small talk rates as one of my activities, I’d place it below watching golf. I much prefer, as do most introverts, having a few lengthy conversations with people–most likely somewhere quiet. I know it’s important, but I find it extremely unnatural.
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Bob, great advice as always. Asking questions is a solid strategy. I caution introverts though not to go overboard with it. I know someone who uses it to the point where I can’t interject to ask a return question. So, what might have been a dialogue becomes instead an interrogation by her. It leaves me with a bad impression every time and I tend to avoid her. Not what we seek when we network!
My recent blog post on gaining energy from an unexpected source is another helpful networking strategy for introverts. We tend to be drained from all that small talk, as you know.
Thanks for the comments, Joyce. Yes, I tend to go overboard with the questions; although, sometimes all you need is one question and then the person/s talk on and on. Thanks for the great point. Send your recent blog post URL to this thread, so others can see it. *As a result of your comment, I added a line at the end of #2.
You’re welcome, Bob. Here’s the link to my blog: http://theintrovertsguide.blogspot.com/ I believe clicking on my name will take someone there also. Thank you for asking.
You are right that sometimes it only takes one question to get someone talking (and frequently not even that if he/she is an extravert!).
Bob, What I find as valuable as the article is the outward admission of the difficulty of this type of situation for you (and introverts). Probably upwards of 30% of the people in any networking event will be silently suffering the same discomfort. I have learned the asking questions approach, which generally reveals a thread for a deeper conversation. Great article.
Thanks, Deborah. I too find Jeff Hadden’s article valuable because of his honest writing. He’s one of my favorites.
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As an Extrovert as Bob knows, I find it easy to approach anyone — but my fail/safe approach is to comment on the organizer, sponsoring company, and/or venue … start there! Good Luck!
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