Monday, October 3, 2016

The Art of Conversation: How to Improve your Small Talk Skills

Small talk can be awkward. Whether you’re talking with a recruiter at a job fair or trying to work up the courage to introduce yourself to someone at a networking mixer, it can be tough to know what to say when you’re already feeling out of your element.

Here are some simple tips to help you make the most of the opportunities you have to engage in small talk:

Practice. If you know you’re going to an event where you’ll likely have to engage in small talk, take time to practice in advance.  Consider the scenario and what type of conversations you’ll have. For example, with a career fair, you’ll likely have to walk right up to a recruiter and introduce yourself. What will you say to her? How will you react?  You’ll likely want to research the organization ahead of time; instead of walking up to the recruiter and asking, “So, what do you do?” have a grasp of what the company does, what products they make, and what they stand for. This will help you to look more competent when you talk with a recruiter; she will be more likely to see you as someone the company would be interested in hiring. So, prior to the event, check the company’s website and consider what questions you might ask.

Have a mental list of topics you’re comfortable discussing. You obviously don’t need to bring a physical list with you, but it helps to have a few topic ideas in mind as you get ready to participate in a networking event. Get up to speed on current events, on new ideas or topics within your specific industry, or perhaps on the latest happenings within a particular organization. Knowing what you want to talk about in advance will keep you from having to scramble in the moment to think about topics of discussion.

Treat conversations like a game of catch. Try to balance a conversation between asking questions and also responding yourself. A good conversation is like a game of catch: Toss the conversation back and forth, with you spending some time speaking and the other individual also spending time speaking. A lopsided conversation isn’t very productive.  What questions you ask will depend on what type of networking event you’re attending. For example, if you’re participating in a networking mixer where you don’t know anyone, you might ask questions like, “What do you do? How long have you worked for your organization? What do you enjoy most about being part of these networking mixer events?” Be sure to keep in mind the needs of your audience when considering what types of questions to ask.

Ask questions and listen to the response. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of others while at networking events. However, when you ask a question, be sure to listen to the answer. There’s nothing more embarrassing than only halfway listening to a response and then saying something that seems completely off-topic to the person you’re speaking to. Focus on a response instead of trying to think of what you’ll say next.

Put your phone away. There’s nothing wrong with pulling your phone out. However, next time you have the urge to reach for your phone, stop and look around. Is there someone who you can talk to at the networking event or job fair instead? If you’re waiting in line at a job fair, consider that the recruiter who you’re waiting to talk to might notice what you’re doing and might see looking at your phone as unprofessional. Don’t close yourself off from opportunities to interact with others by focusing on your phone.

What are some other great small talk tips that you’ve heard?

Written by:  Sarah Moss, Dordt College
Career Development Coordinator

Edited by:  Bobbi Sullivan, Simpson College 
Director, Career Development and Civic Engagement