Small talk at business gatherings can be awkward, but it doesn’t have to be if you master the art.
Compliments are awesome – but they can also be weird. Note the difference between, ‘You have beautiful skin’ and ‘I love your bag’. Unless the two of you are close, it’s not a good idea to overstep certain boundaries. Stick to giving compliments on clothes and accessories.
Don’t hold back
Do your bit to keep the convo going. When asked about your job, don’t give a one-word reply; say, ‘I’m an architect, but I recently did an art history course at UCT’. This way, you open up the chat to many different topics.
Comment on pop culture
The latest hits on the radio, the newest movie releases – the options are countless when it comes to talking about popular culture. Unless the other person has been living under a rock,
you’re bound to strike it lucky by bringing up the hottest goss.
Stay away from religion
Most people feel strongly about religion. Whether you are or aren’t religious, you likely don’t want to get into a heated debate. Let’s try to keep conversation casual and non-confrontational, shall we?
Ask for advice
This can work in business or social settings and has the added bonus of not only being a great conversation starter, but also a useful way to gain info. That could be related to work (‘Do you know the best person to talk to regarding X?’) or personal (‘Can you recommend a great sushi restaurant in the area?’).
Don’t try to impress
This may sound a bit counter-intuitive, but it’s always pretty obvious when you are trying too hard, and your eagerness can often be mistaken for insincerity. Take a deep breath, relax and try not to talk about your BMW.
Comment on their name
This is obviously easier if they have an unusual name, but even if their name is really common, a sincere, ‘Oh, I just love that name! Are you named after anyone?’ can really get the ball rolling.
Ask a silly question
If you think the crowd will be receptive, ask an absurd question to turn the chit-chat into a hilarious debate. Try, ‘Would you rather battle a horse-sized duck or ten duck-sized horses?’
Do your research
Showing you have looked into a person or company is very effective in business: ‘I read that your company is expanding, you must be very excited’ indicates you value what they have to offer.
Make proper introductions
Help people with small talk by introducing them to others with a little more thought and flair. Along with their name, add in detail about them so they have something to talk about should you exit the conversation. ‘This is John, he’s my go-to tax consultant, and he is also a total whizz with computers’, and, ‘This is Sarah. She’s originally from Cape Town and just hiked up Mount Kilimanjaro!’
Words: Erin Coe | Photography: Unsplash