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