The Fine Art of Small Talk: How to Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills and Leave a Positive Impression!

The Fine Art of Small Talk: How to Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills and Leave a Positive Impression!

by Debra Fine

The Fine Art of Small Talk: How to Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills— and Leave a Positive Impression! is a practical guide for starting and maintaining conversations with strangers, acquaintances, friends, and business contacts. It provides easy-to-follow communication strategies for enriching people’s personal and professional lives based on the use of icebreakers, body language, verbal cues, giving genuine compliments, and personal involvement.

Summary Notes

Get Over Your Mom’s Good Intentions

“Remember, even your closest confidante was once a stranger. Take the risk. Walk up to someone and introduce yourself.”

All our friends and colleagues were strangers at some point in our lives. The negative connotation we attach to the concept of “strangers” can prevent us from expanding our social circle and from forming new and lasting personal connections.

As children, we were often told that “silence is golden” and “good things come to those who wait”. However, in forming new relationships, the opposite appears to be true.

Be brave and engage strangers in a conversation because it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship or professional cooperation. If you are a member of a club, a business association, or a religious community, you can recognize the potential for starting and building new relationships at those places and communities. Silence isn’t golden - conversation is.

Fear of rejection plays a key role in our decision to keep it to ourselves, however, rejection happens so rarely that should not even be a factor in our decision to approach a person. 

Since some people are more introverted than others, we sometimes mistake their shyness for arrogance. Since our perception may be wrong, we should give people a chance to show their true selves.

Waiting for others to approach you and struck up a conversation can be futile, so it’s up to you to become that interesting and open person who makes the first move.

It’s useful to prepare icebreaker questions that are suitable for business and social surroundings. The questions should be open-ended, creative, and engaging. Enquire about why the other person loves their profession, what advice they would give their younger selves, what would they do if they couldn’t fail, etc. In terms of people’s personal lives, you could ask icebreaker questions about their childhood, their idols, the best moment of their lives, etc. 

Actions to take

Keep the Conversation Going

“It’s simply a matter of talking, showing an interest, and listening.”

Scan the room whenever you enter one, be it at a party, a meeting, a reunion, or any other social or business occasion. Since it can be more difficult to break into a conversation between two or more people, first look for people who are standing or sitting alone, make eye contact, and simply smile. These are the first baby steps you can take in order to become a great conversationalist in the future.

There can be many barriers that stop us from making new acquaintances, such as age, gender, social status, lifestyle, etc. Overcoming these artificial obstacles is crucial if we wish to enrich our lives with new people. We should give people the chance to open up and share their true selves.

You can encourage open, honest, and pleasant communication by ensuring the other person is comfortable, and by listening and responding to what the person is saying.

Depending on the circumstances, you can start the conversation by making a pleasant comment about the surroundings and asking for an opinion from the other person. Showing genuine interest in what the other person is answering means that you are off to a good start.

When you’ve managed to engage strangers who were alone in a conversation, you might try your hand at group chats. Group conversations can pose a bigger challenge since more often than not, people already know each other and have built rapport. Be a good listener, pay attention to the speaker, and respond to what’s said without being too assertive. 

Actions to take

Hearing Aids and Listening Devices

“Your job as a conversation partner is to listen when the other person is speaking. This isn’t optional—it’s a required courtesy when conversing.”

Communication is not exclusively verbal; nonverbal communication is also vital when we wish to show that we are paying attention to what the other person is telling us. 

Our facial expressions and body language can help us connect to the other person and make them feel that we are truly engaged in the conversation. Therefore, “listening is more than just hearing.” Listening transcends the physical properties of one sense. Listening includes other components, such as eye contact, nodding, and positive body language. 

Verbal cues are another way to let the speaker that you are actively listening. If you wish to show the other person that you are interested in hearing more about a certain topic, ask them to tell you more about it, or to go into more detail. 

If you wish to involve yourself in a specific topic during the conversation, ask them for advice on how to approach it. You can even transition to another subject matter seamlessly by using phrases such as “That reminds me of...,” “I would love to ask a person with your expertise for professional advice,” etc. These verbal cues will undoubtedly signal to the other person that you are fully invested in the conversation. Last, but not least, remember what the other person is saying in order to be able to engage in deeper conversations.  

Actions to take

Prevent Pregnant Pauses with Preparation

“Prepare for a conversation like you’d prepare for an interview—both as the interviewer and the interviewee.”

Pauses in a conversation may occur, so in order to become an exceptional conversationalist, you should always prepare beforehand. 

When you find yourself talking to a stranger, and you come to a halt, it's always a good idea to ask about their opinion of a film/book/play/TV show/sporting event, or to ask for a recommendation for a stockbroker/hotel/hairdresser, etc. If you decide to stir up a more meaningful conversation, ask the other person about issues that matter to them, about what drives them, who inspires them, etc. 

If you are talking to an old acquaintance, ask questions about what's new with their family, about recent events in their life, and about changes that happened since the last time you spoke. 

Giving meaningful compliments about people's appearance and behavior can go a long way towards making people happy and comfortable in your presence. Tell people what you like about them, and, more importantly, why you like it. 

Remember that a real conversation has more than one speaking participant, so, at some point, be prepared to share something about yourself. Although you might consider yourself to be an ordinary person, every ordinary person has at least one extraordinary story to share. It might be a humorous story, an unbelievable coincidence, a great accomplishment, or a summer adventure. By sharing a personal experience, you will probably strengthen the connection with the person you are talking with, and it might even inspire them to share their own extraordinary personal experiences. 

Actions to take

The Graceful Exit

“Ending a conversation by showing appreciation for the interchange provides an upbeat way to leave on a positive note.”

After having participated in a conversation with a stranger for a while, you might feel the need to meet other people at the event you're attending. 

A graceful exit of the conversation might even forge a stronger connection with the person you're talking to. Show appreciation and thank them for the lovely conversation you've had and express your wish to meet and greet others. You'll clearly express your goal to connect with other people while making sure you're leaving the conversation on a positive note. 

Never lose focus of your own agenda and of the purpose of you being at that specific event. If the goal is to network, then make sure you make a connection with everybody you intended to meet. If your job is to find new clients or a new job, you can make your intentions clear to your conversation partner, which might lead to unexpected business opportunities, especially if they know of job openings or people in that specific line of work. 

Actions to take

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