In a recent client meeting workshop with newly promoted investment bankers, we asked: “Why is small talk important?” A fresh-faced banker replied: “Small talk gets people comfortable talking to you.” Nicely put. As a general rule, when the client is talking more than you, your meetings are more effective. Small talk often plays a big part at the start of a successful interaction.
What steps should you consider?
How to begin. For introductions, you get what you give. If you introduce yourself fully with some added detail, you tend to get a detailed response. “Hi, I’m Jim,” is likely to elicit only a first name response. “Hi, I’m Jim Sterling with Exec |Comm,” prompts a full name response with an affiliation, and the affiliation gives you a starting point for the conversation.
Where to go from there. Focus on your immediate surroundings or circumstances. You can comment on the physical setting, ask about the commute or remark about the weather (but only if it’s remarkable). Don’t try to get too creative, or you will be thinking too much, rather than communicating.
What to talk about. Once you start the conversation, listen to their responses and try to segue into the FLOW of the conversation: ask about Family, Leisure, Organization or What’s in the news.
Family is an easy topic to discuss because people generally have plenty to share. “Are your kids getting ready to start school again?” or “Is your family from this area originally?” are good openers. Family is important to everyone, so learning about what matters in people’s lives builds rapport.
Leisure is a fun topic. On a Monday or Tuesday, ask about what happened during the previous weekend. For a Thursday or Friday, ask about plans for the upcoming one. For Wednesday, luckily there are other topics to discuss. A simple, “I hope you had a nice weekend,” is all that’s needed. Gauge from their response the level of personal information they would like to share.
Organizations that you or your meeting partner work or volunteer for provide a rich area for discussion. Perhaps there are recent changes to explore or initiatives that relate to your meeting in some way. This FLOW topic can often lead nicely into your meeting.
What’s in the news can often be an easy way to find common ground. Whether it’s the latest market swing or celebrity sighting – finding out what interests the other person is an important way to connect with your audience.
For any of these topics, most people remember a good conversation as one in which they have done most of the talking. At the same time, others might not care for chit chat, so use your judgment on when to wrap up the small talk and dive into the meeting.
So, what are your plans for Labor Day?
What's your message to the world?