But, sometimes you’re unsure of what to say next. Your mind goes blank and you start to sweat. Awkwardness creeps in and you say, “Excuse me!”
What do you do? You small talk your way there.
Yes. You small talk.
Small talk gets a very bad wrap, but it deserves more appreciation.
Small talk is a dance you perform to get to know someone. It plays a vital role in establishing many of the relationships in our lives. Becoming well versed at small talk takes practice and once you improve, you’ll feel more confident going into any social situation.
The trick is … you actually don’t need to talk as much as you think you do.
You just have to ask the right questions.
One of the first steps in becoming a better conversationalist and engage more people is to become a better questioner.
The next time you’re talking to someone be aware of the questions you’re asking. The quality of the conversation relies on four factors.
1. The types of questions you’re asking
2. The order of questions
3. Your tone
4. How you present the questions
Dale Carnegie, author of the very epic book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, said, “Ask questions the other person will enjoy answering.”
Asking the right questions is a powerful way to discover meaningful information about the person you’re talking to.
To begin the conversation, keep it simple. Start with basic topics or simple questions that are “safe” topics or “feelers” which will give you an idea about who the person is or what their personality is like.
Here are some examples:
“It’s great to meet you! How are you?”
“It’s great to meet you! How’s your day been?”
“What’s your day been like?”
“Have you been here before? (If yes) What do you recommend eating?”
Use these questions (or variations of them) to start the momentum of the conversation. “Feeler” questions allow you to understand the person you’re with, beginning to build a bond, and learning which questions to ask next.
After a few basic questions, start picking up the speed and begin to discover (listening for) meaningful things about who you’re talking to.
Some questions you can use are:
What are your weekend plans?
What are some personal projects you’re working on?
What do you recommend for fun activities this weekend?
Working on anything exciting lately outside of work?
Offer the center stage to the person you’re talking to by asking these types of questions. It’s an easy way to move the spotlight away from you, especially if you’re uncomfortable or nervous, but don’t interrogate them. Add a few interesting pieces of information about yourself too.
Work off the questions you ask.
At this point, you’ve discovered some facts about the person.
You have clues and ideas to work with, so we’ll give you a few basic follow-up examples below.
If you ask — “What are your plans this weekend?” and they say, “I’m meeting up with friends to get drinks. Keeping it simple.”
Follow it up with: “That sounds great. There are good bar options around here I’ve noticed. Do you have a favorite?”
Follow it up with: “Great. It’s always good to keep things simple. What are some other weekend activities you enjoy?”
Follow it up with: “That’s great. How long have you known your friends for?”
Find common ground and shared experiences to build on. When you discover commonalities, you’ll build trust and become likable faster. When you accomplish this, it’s a great place to ask deeper questions.
After establishing trust and compatibility, discussions over shared experiences gives the other person a sense of comfort that allows them (and you) to be open and honest. This is “bonding”, which is the key and allowance to have deeper conversations.
Keep in mind this may also take a few separate conversations to reach this level of connection. Some people open up sooner (or later) than others.
Examples of deep questions.
“Can you tell me more about your family?”
“Does the work you’re doing now make you happy?”
“Can you tell me about your last relationship?”
“Where did you grow up, and what was your family like?”
These are good questions to venture into deep-conversations with when you’re ready.
Now, you have a solid idea of how to dance to a more intimate and meaningful conversation with someone you just met.
Never underestimate the influence of small talk.
This is your chance to learn basic and important knowledge about someone. Be excited, and don’t put pressure on yourself to be perfect. Simply have fun!
Remember … A conversation is a dance requiring two people to be in sync with each other. It’s a loop or mutual push-and-pull, unfolding over time.