One of the most important aspects of networking is the small talk that occurs at networking functions. The small talk acts as an ice breaker to open up the initial conversation between strangers. This initial conversation is important. It is the first opportunity to grow a mutual connection that may lead to future referrals.
This big word is the fear of making small talk, often resulting in the sufferer avoiding social and networking events. Many people simply dread the thought of having to carry on conversations with people they do not know. It is easy to label these people as shy. However, only a small minority of people are too shy to enjoy talking with others. Most people are not afraid to talk; they are just intimidated by the task of finding something to talk about.
For this reason, business owners need to stay on top of pop culture and current events. The latest issues and stories in the news are great ways to break the ice and help you find common ground with a person you may never have met before and with whom you may not have much in common. But with the media explosion, it’s increasingly difficult to have a firm grasp on water-cooler talk, particularly when it comes to conversations with people in different age brackets. So, how do you start — and maintain — a conversation at a networking or other event with someone you don’t know at all?
Just ask questions as an ice breaker
This sounds simple because it is. A great way to get people to talk is to ask a few “feeder” questions that will help you learn what the other person is interested in. Simply hone in on that subject. You don’t have to know anything about the topic to converse about the topic. You just have to know enough to ask the questions.
It’s easier you think. Online news sites have set up their pages with easy-to-read convenient categories, such as Top News, Sports, Entertainment, and Tech. Either at night or first thing in the morning, just take a few minutes to read the headlines, and maybe the first one to two sentences. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about “what’s hot” from just a cursory glance. You have enough information to start asking questions and conversing with someone new.
Make the other person feel like an expert
I still remember when I realized the value of asking questions and letting someone answer them. I was flying for business, and just before taking off, I struck up a conversation with the person seated next to me. I’m not sure what started the conversation, but I wasn’t familiar with the business he was in, and I asked a question. That question led to another, then another until the end of that two-hour flight. I realized that he had “small talked” during the entire flight. We made a good connection, I had learned something new, and, as we were gathering our belongings, he complimented me for being a good conversationalist.
A savvy networker, Susan RoAne, reads the sports section in her newspaper from cover to cover every single day, even though she has zero interest in sports. “Why on earth would you subject yourself to this?” I asked her, as I am admittedly not a sports fan, either. She replied, “My networking functions are primarily attended by men. I don’t want to stay on the sidelines while important conversations are going on, conversations that invariably start with a discussion about last night’s game.”
Take a few minutes each day to browse enough headlines to arm you with enough knowledge of current events, pop culture — and yes, even sports. Use this knowledge as an ice breaker to ask questions and get conversations flowing. Using small talk is simply a good networking strategy. As a bonus, you’ll learn a lot from these conversations you might never have learned otherwise.