Tips for Great Small Talk: Conquer Your Networking Anxiety

Having excellent communication skills isn’t just about speaking clearly. It’s also includes having conversations that create a with another person. Many times, if I’m working with a client and recommend they attend a networking event, they will cringe. The prospect of making small talk with complete strangers is something that most people dread. The fact is though, reaching out and getting to know new people is very important for almost every career. 

Networking can help you:

  • Stay on top of new trends in your industry and keep your finger on the pulse of the market.
  • Meet prospective clients, investors, partners, and mentors.
  • Access resources that can help your career by developing new areas of expertise.
  • Open new opportunities for advancement or new jobs.

Making the Most of Small Talk

Having good networking skills is all about making connections and building relationships, and you do that through having conversations. In fact, I believe it’s a misnomer to label conversations at these events “small talk.” The goal is not to just talk about the weather and when the heatwave will let up, but to get to know a person, connect over some similar interests, and make an impression on them so that they reach out to you again. Follow up is a two-way street-build your new relationship by connecting with people on LinkedIn and scheduling a time for coffee or a short walk.  Here are a few tips to take your small talk to the next level and make lasting connections when you meet new people.

1.    Do your homework before the event. Whether you’re attending a company cocktail hour or a day-long conference or association event, it pays to read up and be prepared before stepping through those doors. Watch the news and read a local paper to be up to date on current events. Familiarize yourself with the agenda for the meeting and the expected participants. All of this is good fodder for conversations and helps you interact with people and ask intelligent questions of them. Enter the event with some goals in mind including who you want to meet, how many new people your hope to meet and/or how many follow-up meetings you want to schedule.

2. Set goals before going to the event. Enter the event with some goals in mind including who you want to meet, how many new people your hope to meet and/or how many follow-up meetings you want to schedule. Be sure to set goals that are realistic for you!

3.    Have discussion topics at the ready that will get others talking. Your research should help you brainstorm several different topics that you can use for discussion.  Some other topic ideas include the event itself, the location, and what brought people to the event. Show an interest in their life by asking the person’s work, recent projects and how they got started in their career.  One idea is to ask people for advice, such as where they recommend eating in the area or what are good weekend activities. Make sure the questions are open-ended and not just something that can be answered with a yes or no. Check out 101 Conversation Starters for some more ideas. 

4.    Don’t be afraid to share your opinions. Let people get to know who you are and what you like and don’t like. Not everybody has to agree on everything; in fact, some differences of opinion often make for insightful conversations. One caution-stay away from the topics of politics and religion until you have established a strong relationship. 

5.    Be aware of your body language. Take a deep breath, relax, and enter into your conversations with an open mind as well as an open torso–arms and legs uncrossed. Crossed arms and legs can make you appear locked off and unwilling to engage. 

6.    Be a good listener. Make eye contact and nod occasionally, so the other person knows you are actively attending. Being a good listener also means asking good follow up questions to keep the conversation going and show that you’ve been paying attention.

Networking can happen anywhere. Put your phone in your pocket and start to make eye contact with people when you’re out in public. You never know what exciting conversations you might end up having with someone next to you in line at the coffee shop or your next Rotary club meeting, or even in the office break room waiting to microwave your lunch.

Triad Speech Consultants are passionate about empowering professionals to achieve greater success through communication training.  We offer a variety of training programs which help professionals improve networking and communication skills. Schedule a free consultation session today!