Engaging in interesting, memorable small talk is a daunting task for most people. How do you know what to share and when to share it? How do you know what topics to avoid? How do you connect with your team through engaging conversation?
Most experts propose a simple three-level framework that you can use to master the art of conversation. Identifying where you are and where you should be is not always easy, but having an objective outline can help you stay out of sticky situations. We will also share some handy networking tips that will help you get conversations started.
Level One: Discussing General Topics
At the most basic level, stick to general topics: the weather, sports, non-controversial world events, movies, and books. This is typically what people refer to when they say, “small talk.”
At this stage, you will focus on facts rather than feelings, ideas, and perspectives. Death, religion, and politics are absolute no-no’s. (The exception is when you know someone has had an illness or death in the family and wish to express condolences. In this situation, keep your condolences sincere, brief, and to the point.)
If someone shares a fact that you feel is not true, try to refrain from pointing out the discrepancy. If you are asked about the fact, it’s OK simply to say, “I wasn’t aware of that,” or make some other neutral comment.
Right now, you are simply getting to know the team members. Keep an eye out for common ground while you are communicating. Use open-ended questions and listening skills to get as much out of the conversation as possible.
Level Two: Sharing Ideas and Perspectives
If the first level of conversation goes well, the team should feel comfortable with each other and have identified some common ground. Now it’s time to move a bit beyond general facts and share different ideas and perspectives.
It is important to note that not all personal experiences are appropriate to share at this level. For example, it is fine to share that you like cross-country skiing and went to Europe, but you may not want to share the fact that you took out a personal loan to do so.
Although this level of conversation is the one most often used, and is the most conducive to relationship building and opening communication channels, make sure that you don’t limit yourself to one person in the team.
Level Three: Sharing Personal Experiences
This is the most personal level of conversation. This is where everything is on the table and personal details are being shared. This level is typically not appropriate for a social, casual meeting. However, all of the conversational skills are crucial at this stage in particular: when team members are talking about matters of the heart, they require our complete attention, excellent listening skills, and skilled probing with appropriate questions.
Our Top Networking Tips
Understanding how to converse and how to make small talk are great skills, but how do you get to that point? The answer is simple, but far from easy: you walk up, shake their hand, and say hello!
If you’re in the middle of a social gathering, try these networking tips to maximize your impact and minimize your nerves.
- Before the gathering, imagine the absolute worst that could happen and how likely it is. For example, you may fear that people will laugh at you when you try to join their group or introduce yourself. Is this likely? At most business gatherings, it’s very unlikely!
- Remember that everyone is as nervous as you are. Focus on turning that energy into a positive force.
- To increase your confidence, prepare a great introduction. The best format is to say your name, your organization and/or position title (if appropriate), and something interesting about yourself, or something positive about the gathering. Example: “I’m Tim from Accounting. I think I recognize some of you from the IT conference last month.”
- Just do it! The longer you think about meeting new people, the harder it will be. Get out there, introduce yourself, and meet new people.
- Act as the host or hostess. By asking others if they need food or drink, you are shifting the attention from you to them.
- Start a competition with a friend: see how many people, each of you can meet before the gathering is over. Make sure your meetings are worthwhile!
- Join a group of odd-numbered people.
- Try to mingle as much as possible. When you get comfortable with a group of people, move on to a new group.
- When you hear someone’s name, repeat the introduction in your head. Then, when someone new joins the group, introduce them to everyone.
- Mnemonics are a great way to remember names. Just remember to keep them to yourself! Some examples:
- Singh likes to sing.
- Sue sues people for a living.
- How funny – Amy Pipes is a plumber!
Engaging conversation is an effective way to connect with your team and staying within the three-level framework will help you master the art of conversation. Our team building activities offer the ideal opportunity for conversing and connecting with your team in a new and more relaxing environment.