FAQs with Phil: What is Appropriate Small Talk at Networking Events?

Nobody likes small talk, so why do we do it? Change your networking conversations so you start off with Big Talk instead.


In this Mind Your Business series, FAQs With Phil, COSE’s own Phil Stella answers some of the most frequently asked questions small business owners have regarding how to communicate effectively*. 

It usually includes commentary about the weather, leads in to COVID-related topics and ends just as awkwardly as it started. At networking events, in the elevator, while you’re waiting for more attendees to jump on a Zoom meeting—we all dread it. Small talk.

For this edition of FAQs with Phil, we’re delving into the topic of small talk. I was recently asked the question, “What is appropriate small talk at networking events?” 

My answer is easy: There isn’t any! But here’s why…

Small talk really doesn’t work that well. It is trivial, repetitive, and yes, awkward. So, I suggest focusing on the Big Talk instead.

When you’re attending a business, professional group, or networking event, talk should never be small. You’re there to meet people who can help you or who you can help. So just say no to small talk. It’s all about nothing, kind of like Seinfeld.

One important reason why small talk needs to be a thing of the past is because our most valuable resource is time. And small talk is a waste of it. 

You must value your time and theirs, so don’t waste it on trivialities. Instead, politely and creatively start talking about the other person. Ask about the company, the location, their products or services. Inquire about the story behind the name of their company if it’s unusual or ask what they like most about what they do.

You’ll be striking up a conversation in a more natural, effective way, while still learning about the business and the person you are meeting.

That’s Big Talk because it’s more important to the other person than the local sports team, how good the snacks are, and—most of all—the weather.

When people start with small talk for a few minutes and then shift to more business-related content, their strategy looks lame and is totally obvious. So, cut to the crash.

If you start the conversation first, you can quickly learn enough to determine if you want to know more. At that point, if the other person doesn’t return the professional courtesy by asking about you, don’t assume it’s due to a lack of interest. He or she probably just doesn’t realize it’s your turn. So, wait for them to breath and answer the question they didn’t ask. They won’t realize how you’ve finessed the conversation. 

So, just say “No” to small talk and “Yes” to starting off networking conversations with Big Talk instead. See if that doesn’t engage other people better and faster, and define you as a great conversationalist.

Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication, www.communicate-confidently.com, 440 449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. A popular trainer and executive coach on writing, communication styles and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.

*If you have a question for Phil, please send him an email at Phil@communicate-confidently.com

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  • Next up: FAQs With Phil: Why Do My Employees Stink at Communicating?

    FAQs With Phil: Why Do My Employees Stink at Communicating?

    In part two of this three-part series on workplace communications, we explore reasons why your employees may not exhibit effective communication skills.


    In this new Mind Your Business series, FAQs With Phil, COSE’s own Phil Stella answers some of the most frequently asked questions small business owners and employees have regarding how to communicate effectively*. 

    Looks like we hit a nerve with the first piece in this limited series. We had fun sticking it to bosses who are poor workplace communicators. At least, I had fun. 

    We concluded that their skills are weak because they weren’t an important factor in the hiring process, they didn’t learn them in school and few executives find them mentioned in their performance objectives or evaluations. 

    RELATED: Why is my boss a poor communicator?

    The simple, and often painful, reality is that throughout their careers they got hired and rewarded in spite of their communication skills—certainly not because of them. But, that’s only one side of the workplace communication equation; the other side is employees with weak communication skills. 

    So in this scenario, you’re the boss. And as the boss you run weekly meetings with your staff where you present a rundown of what’s up for the week as well as housekeeping items, and then each per-son gives their own updates. Almost everyone practices active listening during this time, but you have one or two employees who check their phones regularly and seem generally unengaged. Coincidentally—or not—these are also the people who fire off three-word email responses (usually without punctuation) and who have difficulty collaborating with other team members. 

    Before you assume that these employees really are unengaged (or rude), take a moment to consider that they might just stink at communicating. But, why?

    Here are some reasons you may experience weakness in communication skills among employees:

    They didn’t learn it in school. Most high schools offer few, if any, courses in presentation or interpersonal communication skills. The same is true for many college business curricula. With-out that background understanding of why communication is important and how to succeed at it, you get what they learn.

    You’re not making it a priority in the hiring process.
    This is your business and your employees, so you’re probably the one putting together the job description, interviewing and hiring—or at least you’re signing off on it. Many open positions—with the exception of those in sales or other customer-facing areas—fail to prioritize communication skills. If you aren’t assessing how well prospective employees will communicate with you and their coworkers in each of the aspects of the hiring process, you get what you look for. 

    RELATED: Read more by Phil Stella.

    You don’t include it in evaluations. Many employers don’t include written or verbal skills in their performance management system because they don’t see that much value in them—again, unless the positions are in sales or customer service. If you aren’t regularly checking in on your employees’ communication skills and capabilities the same as you do other aspects of their job, you get what you ask for and reward.

    So, if your sad fate is to work in or lead an organization with generally poor employee communication skills, you’re certainly not alone. But, what can organizations do about this scenario? Not to worry, we’ve got you covered. Tune in next time for part III—a summary of simple, but effective, best practices to create organizations that communicate effectively.   

    Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication, www.communicate-confidently.com, 440 449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. A popular trainer and executive coach on writing, communication styles and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.   

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  • Next up: FAQs with Phil: Why are Some Leaders Such Poor Communicators?

    FAQs with Phil: Why are Some Leaders Such Poor Communicators?

    In the first of this three-part series examining communication among teams, Phil identifies three reasons why your boss might be lacking effective communication skills.

    In this new Mind Your Business series, FAQs With Phil, COSE’s own Phil Stella answers some of the most frequently asked questions small business owners and employees have regarding how to communicate effectively*. 

    I was asked recently by someone in the small business world, "Why is my boss such a terrible communicator?" The short answer to this common question is that communication skills weren’t on the boss test.

    Let’s optimistically assume most leaders know what they want to communicate and generally accept the importance of effective workplace communication. So, why are so many of them weak communicators?

    Here’s a summary of my thoughts—based on over 35 years of experience as a workplace communication manager, consultant, trainer, and executive coach—of reasons why some leaders might be poor communicators: 

    Reason No. 1: They think it’s no big deal. Many executives don’t have a highly developed communication skill set because they don’t think they need one. They need to be able to make effective budgeting, strategic planning and hiring decisions—of course. But communication competency is rarely an important quantifiable factor in their performance objectives or requirements for advancement or success. “If it ain’t that important … who cares?”

    RELATED: Do your emails suck?

    Reason No. 2: They didn’t learn these skills in school. Most business schools have minimal coursework requirements in interpersonal communication, business writing or presentation skills—even less at the graduate level. And best of luck to you if those courses were taught by “academicians” with little relevant real world business experience. 

    Reason No. 3: It wasn’t on the “test.” How many organizations place written communication or presentation competencies high on the “gotta have” list when interviewing candidates for managerial positions or promotions? Very few, I fear. Executives often get promoted or hired in the first place in spite of their communication competencies, rather than because of them. Unless, of course, the job is in corporate communications, marketing, or some sales roles.

    RELATED: More FAQs With Phil

    When skills and subjects like interpersonal, nonverbal, small group and intercultural communications are not a priority in the business and academic world, it makes it difficult for communications to be a priority among many workplace teams. So, if your sad fate is to report to a very weak communicator, smile through the pain and promise yourself that when you get to be the boss, you’ll work hard to be a much better communicator.

    Better yet, whenever you're in a position to do so, help push good communications skills to the top of the priority list for new hires, advancements, and overall indicators of success in the business world. So start expecting more, hold leaders accountable for being good communicators, and do what you can to add "How are you a good communicator?" to the boss test.

    But wait, there’s more! Check back in future articles as we discuss the reverse issue—when you’re the boss and your employees have poor communication skills. Then, in the final piece of this three-part series, we will provide suggestions of steps you can take to improve communication between you and your team. Because this doesn’t have to be your sad fate after all.

    Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication, www.communicate-confidently.com, 440 449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. A popular trainer and executive coach on writing, communication styles and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.

    *If you have a question for Phil, please send him an email at Phil@communicate-confidently.com

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  • Next up: Why SEO Copywriting is Critical for Success and 7 Tips to Get You Started

    Why SEO Copywriting is Critical for Success and 7 Tips to Get You Started

    SEO copywriting is key to any digital marketing strategy. Help potential customers find your business by following these seven tips to boosting your business in search results.


    SEO copywriting is a marketing method that all businesses should be leveraging. This is especially important when it comes to attracting more local customers.

    Simply put, SEO copywriting is the process of creating online content that ranks high in Google’s search engine. When content ranks high, businesses are able to increase brand awareness, increase website traffic, generate more leads, and build trust. 

    With that said, many businesses are still left wondering how they can achieve their SEO copywriting goals.

    If you want to improve your SEO, read on to learn why SEO copywriting is important and 7 tips that businesses can begin implementing today.

    Why SEO Copywriting is Important

    SEO copywriting is central to a strong digital marketing strategy. In fact, the customer’s journey begins with content. This is because consumers today rely on online content when making a purchase. The average person will actually look at 11.4 pieces of content before making a purchasing decision.

    Businesses that develop an effective SEO copywriting strategy increase the likelihood of their website being seen. At the same time, it helps businesses cut through the digital noise and get ahead of the competition.

    That’s not all though—your content helps shape the customer experience. Effective copywriting allows businesses to nurture potential customers a lot more easily. 

    RELATED: Why you should invest in SEO for your business

    Along with this, SEO copywriting helps businesses gain respectability. Consumers want to invest in businesses they trust. With that said, copy that is of good quality, is authoritative, and ranks high in the search engine creates a good first impression, leading to more sales. 

    7 Tips for SEO Copywriting in 2021

    Google currently holds 90.1% of the total search engine market share. For this reason, SEO copywriting is a crucial component of business success.

    Always Focus on The User’s Experience

    Before we get into our seven SEO copywriting tips, the common denominator you need to be focused on is your visitor’s or user’s experience.

    Despite the constant evolution of their search algorithms, Google has been focusing on pairing searchers with the best possible results. User experience is very high on the list of factors.

    Therefore, when it comes to your copywriting, you need to make sure it will satisfy the search intent and provide value to those looking for what it is you provide.

    Focus on the user and you will improve your SEO.

    With that in mind, here are seven tips to help improve your copywriting for SEO and overall success.

    Tip No. 1: Refrain from Keyword Stuffing

    Keywords are certainly important when it comes to connecting with your audience and increasing conversions. But there is such thing as using too many keywords. Keyword stuffing is the practice of excessively targeting your main keyword. This is done as a way to improve organic search performance. 

    Practicing keyword stuffing has the reverse effect, though. Keyword stuffing is condemned by search engines and can lead to a search penalty. In fact, Google might remove your content from the search engine results page.

    Google’s focus will always be to provide the best user experience by delivering quality search results. Keyword stuffing signals to Google that you are providing poor-quality content and will determine your content is not a good fit for users. 

    Tip No. 2: Focus on Your Headlines

    Your headline is probably one of the last things that you think about when it comes to improving your SEO copywriting, but it should receive just as much attention as the body of your content. 

    Imagine spending a great deal of time writing a long-form piece of content for your audience and quickly throwing together a headline. Unfortunately, doing this will likely result in no one clicking on your link. While the body of your content is likely engaging, your headline will signal to readers that it might not be that useful. 

    For this reason, businesses should take the time to brainstorm potential headline topics. Essentially, your headline will create the first impression for viewers and will determine whether your content is worth reading further. You want your headline to be engaging and give quick insight into what readers can expect to learn. 

    Tip No. 3: Write an Engaging Introduction

    Not only does your body content and headline need to attract the attention of readers, but your introduction needs to be engaging, as well. After your headline, the introduction will be the next thing that readers look at. Your introduction should be short but give readers insight into what’s next. 

    When creating a strong introduction, you want to include things such as what your readers will gain, what questions will be answered, and why they should continue reading. Providing this kind of information will entice readers and encourage them to take a further look at your content. Not forgetting to mention that it will help you rank better in the search engine.

    Tip No. 4: Optimize Your Meta Tags

    Your meta tags provide readers with a snippet of information that describes the page content. They are an important component of SEO copywriting because they impact how your site will appear in the search engine results page and how likely users will be to click on your website. Without meta tags, it will be difficult for businesses to reach their target audience organically. 

    This is why businesses should prioritize optimizing their meta tags in 2020 if they’re not already. When your meta tags are optimized correctly, you can improve your search rank and ensure your content gets in front of the right audience. 

    RELATED: Read more by Nachum Langsner

    Tip No. 5: Improve the Reader Experience with a Table of Contents

    Consumers today want to spend as little time as possible getting the information they need. With that said, your readers’ time is valuable, and they expect businesses to deliver their offerings as soon as possible.

    This is why a table of contents is becoming more commonplace in content, especially for businesses that have a lot to say. A table of contents allows readers to quickly understand if your content will answer their question or offer something useful.  In addition, a table of contents improves the user experience, as readers can easily navigate the components of your content for better readability. 

    Tip No. 6: Get Straight to the Point

    When creating your content, it’s important to get straight to the point. Too often, businesses will create lengthy content that doesn’t really address the topic at hand. But Google prioritizes content that is relevant and useful for readers. Google determines relevant content as one that shows expertise, is authoritative, and trustworthy. 

    When businesses take too long to get to the point, Google may not feel like the information is relevant enough. That being said, the best way to establish relevancy in your content is by targeting your main keyword early on in your copy. 

    Tip No. 7: Improve Readability

    Another important thing that businesses should focus on in 2021 is improving the readability of their copy.

    Readability is about making your information clear and easy to understand for your audience. When content has great readability, it is more likely for your target audience to read and interact with the content you publish. 

    This means that businesses need to ensure that information isn’t too complex to understand. In fact, half of the U.S. population reads below an 8th-grade level, which means that businesses should focus on creating copy that is at or under that level to keep their audience’s attention. 

    Remember, most people would rather consume information quickly online. So, if the information is too complex, visitors are more likely to leave and get their information elsewhere. 

    Nachum Langsner is the Co-Founder & CMO of LocalBizGuru, a full-service digital marketing agency based in Cleveland, OH. He has over 10+ years of experience in the SEO industry and is a frequent presenter and instructor of digital marketing and SEO seminars for entrepreneurs and small business owners in the Greater Cleveland area for organizations such as COSE, Jumpstart, the Better Business Bureau, Score and the Ohio SBDC at CSU.  
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  • Next up: MYB Year in Review: 2019

    MYB Year in Review: 2019

    As we end one decade and start another, we’re taking a look back at ten of our favorite articles from 2019. Which ones make your list?

    In 2019 we explored topics including cybersecurity, using video to market your business, establishing an effective social media presence and so much more. Here is a recap of some of those standout articles.

    Hiring Contract Remote Workers Can Benefit a Small Business if Done Right

    Not having the responsibility to pay for health care and saving on office space are just two of the reasons many businesses are using contract remote workers. Read these other benefits to hiring contractors and how you can have a successful experience for all parties.

    The Benefits and Cost of an Employee Wellness Program

    From reduced health care costs to increased employee morale, there are many benefits of a workplace wellness program. Discover the details behind employee wellness programs: the costs associated, the benefits and examples of the limitless possibilities for these programs.

    9 Ways to Remove Risk from Your Social Media Policy

    Social media is a powerful marketing tool, but it can also open your business up to a lot of risks. Having a strong and clearly worded social media policy can help you mitigate these risks, however. Here are nine things to keep in mind as you put your company's policy together.

    Check Your Fiscal Fitness

    How fiscally fit are you? You should probably already know the answer to this question but most business owners do not. Answer these 10 money questions and find out.

    Don't Act Like a Sell Out When You're Selling

    There are going to be times as a sales person when you'll have to modify your behavior to land a sale. Here's how to make sure you don't modify the integrity of your business and your self-esteem in the process.

    5 Cybersecurity Tips You Should Put in Place Right Now

    On average, a data breach costs the impacted business $3.6 million. And the cost-per-compromised-record is an average $141. If only the companies hit by these data attacks had taken a look at these cybersecurity tips.

    Don't Be a Networking 'Slug'

    Networking receptions can be a powerful way to generate new business for your company. It's a shame, though, how many people create negative first impressions during these events and end up driving business away. Don't be one of these networking slugs: Follow this advice instead!

    5 Ways to End Workplace Dishonesty

    There's a lot to understand when it comes to workplace dishonesty, including the reasons behind it and the different forms it can take on. And most importantly, we're bringing you ways to prevent dishonesty from happening at work in the first place. So click here—because, honestly, you can't afford to miss this one.

    Making Relationships Work

    Before you enter into a new business relationship, it's imperative you really know your new partner. Here is the basic information you need to know, and the proof you need to see, in order to ensure your partnerships work for you.

    10 Benefits of Using Subscription-based IT Services for Your Business

    From ease of scalability to cost streamlining, more companies are looking to subscription-based IT services to help with their technology needs. Take a closer look at other reasons why companies are making the switch.


    What was your favorite Mind Your Business article from 2019? Let us know on Twitter!

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  • Next up: Help Our Community Be Counted: 2020 Census needs your voice

    Help Our Community Be Counted: 2020 Census needs your voice

    As of August 24, Cuyahoga County’s response rate to the 2020 U. S. Census stands at only 64.6%. The County’s response rate is lagging behind all of our neighboring counties and behind many of our peer counties. The current rate is also lower than the 2010 Census, which was 67.1%.  

    The Census impacts federal representation and funding for things like roads and bridges, health care, education, food assistance and so much more. For every person not counted in Cuyahoga County, $1,814 is lost in federal funding for these programs. 

    • A quick tally of the numbers indicates that over 400,000 people in our County have not yet completed the Census, which equates to close to $762 million in federal funding being left on the table.  
    • Large companies use Census data to determine which markets to move into and which ones to exit.  
    • During this pandemic and subsequent economic downturn, Cuyahoga County’s Census numbers are even more important than in past counts. 

    Business owners are trusted, well-known figures in the community, and we need your voice now. We need your assistance in sharing the importance of the Census with your employees and customers. Can we count on you to employ every communication method in your toolbox for the next 30 days?
    Social media, newsletters, public meetings, signage, door-knocking and outreach events are key opportunities for you to share a personalized message with residents. To learn more about messaging and view a social media toolkit, click here.

    The 2020 Census is a marathon that has just turned into a sprint. Too much is at stake. The time to respond is now!

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