Small talk can feel like it sounds, unimportant and insignificant, but learning how to start a conversation is a crucial skill in your career. People naturally think of small talk as discussing the weather or bringing up some trivial information that seems meaningless when your time is valuable.
As trivial as it may seem, small talk opens the road to building rapport. Employers can’t hire enough people that demonstrate the skill of putting people at ease, truth be known conversational skills make you more employable.
One of the reasons why people are uncomfortable attending networking events or joining professional groups is their awkwardness in carrying on conversations. Some have no problem in going with the flow while meeting people but not everyone feels that way, especially when they are looking to transition their career.
Your ability to build rapport with those around you leads to what employers call the “likeability factor” and job candidates who are likeable are easy to hire.
Small talk and cold sweats
There are some remedies if you feel that small talk makes you break out in cold sweats. Try practicing starting a conversation on a daily basis with people you know then gradually ease up to greeting those who ride the elevator with you every day.
It’s amazing what a smile can do to bring on small talk that leads to a conversation starter. A couple of days ago, I overheard a conversation while two people were fueling their cars. One person complimented the other one’s car, and from there they started talking about gas mileage.
As insignificant as this may seem, it was a great example of how a compliment and a question can lead to a good conversation.
You might be surprised at the number of coworkers who rarely greet one another in the morning, the small gesture of acknowledgement takes less than a couple of minutes but over time reaps social benefits that adds up.
Take some time to list several topics that most people could relate too and use those as starting points. Keep in mind that everyone likes to feel special and when you recognize that it naturally leads to good conversation starters.
Knowing when to stop
Knowing when to stop small talk and change direction with the conversation is the next step in building rapport and that’s where some people at networking events have a difficult time. Relying too heavily on small talk topics will keep you from gathering needed information and will prevent your network from growing.
Pay attention to nonverbal cues — when small talk is beginning to fizzle that’s a sign to change directions. In the case of a networking event, communicate with more depth such as talking about your personal goals or what you share in common by attending the same event.
A good strategy is researching the event first and preparing some open ended questions to use in case you need them.
Asking questions and showing interest in the other person builds upon small talk. Gauge how much time you spend talking versus listening and make sure it’s a good balance.
Keep in mind that not every topic is suited for starting a conversation and know which ones will likely create reactions such as subjects you feel passionate about that could make others feel uncomfortable. Not everyone will share your same enthusiasm, and instead of small talking working for you it could be a liability.
Small talk will have a big impact on your career by helping you meeting new people and developing the likeability factor that will pave the way toward opportunity.