How to Polish Your Small-Talk Skills

If you want to make new friends and advance in your career, learn to connect with others through small talk.

Here are 3 simple steps for striking up conversation and making the most of networking events:

Preparation Before A Networking Event

1. Have a few topics of conversation prepared. Stay current with community and world events. Read the latest industry publications. Offer sincere compliments if you like someone’s hat or if you know that they recently won an award.

2. Rehearse answers to common questions. Practice your responses to questions that you hear all the time. Put an interesting or amusing spin on your description of where you work or your hometown.

3. Check your body language. Above all, try to relax. Appearing confident and friendly will help you have a good time and meet more people. You’ll also help those around you to feel more at ease.

Basic Communication Principles

1. Greet people. Let your greetings make a good first impression. Take the initiative to say hello and offer your name. Smile and shake hands. Repeat the other person’s name so you’ll be more likely to remember it.

2. Ask open-ended questions. Keep the dialogue flowing with open-ended questions. Ask people about their impressions and experiences.

3. Practice active listening. Give people your full attention and show your enthusiasm. Turn off your cell phone or at least put it on vibrate if you have to take urgent calls.

4. Enter group conversations. If everyone’s already engaged, you can still find opportunities to be included. When you see two people talking, check first to avoid interrupting something personal. With larger groups, discreetly wait until there’s an opening to make an appropriate comment.

5. Keep it brief. Leave people wanting more. Learn to excuse yourself tactfully by mentioning that you need to speak with someone or get something to eat. Let people know that you appreciated meeting them or hope to see them again soon.

Special Tips for Networking Events

1. Take advantage of easy icebreakers. Networking events are designed for meeting people, so seize the opportunity. It’s natural to talk about why you came and the benefits you’re hoping to achieve. Just take an equal interest in helping others with their goals.

2. Ask for information if you’re a newcomer. If it’s your first time, ask others for their guidance. Many people will be flattered to share their knowledge. Tell the workers at the registration desk that you’re new, and they may point out people on their welcoming committee or individuals in your line of business.

3. Offer assistance if you’re a veteran. If you’re already familiar with the organization, help newcomers feel at home. You may make valuable connections and you’ll create a positive environment for everybody.

4. Exchange introductions. Broaden your network by identifying people you want to meet and mutual colleagues who can help introduce you. Be ready to reciprocate when others ask for introductions. Check the registration sheet for the names and affiliations of interesting people or use business-oriented social networks like LinkedIn to get more ideas.

5. Share business cards. When you’ve had a promising conversation, use your business cards to help make a lasting connection. Offer your card and reiterate any specific reason for staying in touch. When someone gives you their card, use the back to jot down any details you need to remember.

Get comfortable with schmoozing. Improving your small talk skills will help you build your self-confidence and broaden your social and business networks.

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