Make the Most of Seasonal Mingling!
By Debra Fine
Do you dread holiday parties? Does attending another open house make you want to stay inside your office and lock the door? You’re not alone. Many of us feel apprehensive about these situations because most of us hate entering rooms where we know hardly anyone in them. Keeping a conversation going during these occasions can be an ordeal.
But these are opportunities to develop potential business relationships and broaden our networks. Whether you realize it or not, networking happens all the time.
Some people view small talk as inconsequential, but I contend that it’s the appetizer for every relationship. Small talk can turn a challenging situation during an awkward social gathering into a success. Small talk connects us, whether the setting is business or social.
Everyone learns technical skills required of their jobs, but not everyone places importance on conversational skills. The ability to talk easily with anyone is a learned skill, not a personality trait. Learning this will help you develop rapport with people and leave an impression that lasts longer than exchanging business cards.
Here are a few tips to improve your small talk skills:
- Be the first to say “Hello!”
- Introduce yourself. Act as if you’re the host and introduce new arrivals to your conversational partner or partners.
- Smile first and always shake hands when you meet anyone.
- Take your time during introductions! Make an extra effort to remember names, and use the names frequently in the conversation.
- Maintain eye contact in any conversation. Many people in a group of three or more people look around in the hope that others in the group will maintain eye contact on our behalf. But people don’t feel listened to if you’re not looking at them.
- Get somebody to talk about why they’re attending the event and you’re on your way to engaging them in conversation.
- Show an interest in every person. The more interest you show the wiser and more attractive you become to others.
- Listen carefully for information that can keep the conversation going.
- Remember: People want to be with people who make them feel special, not people who are special. Take responsibility to help people you talk to feel as if they’re the only person in the room.
- Play the conversation “game.” When someone asks, “How’s business?” or “What’s going on?” Answer with more than “Not much.” Tell more about yourself so that others can learn more about you.
- But be careful with business acquaintances. You wouldn’t want to open a conversation with: “How’s your job with (fill in the blank)?” What if that person just got fired or laid off? Be careful when you’re asking about an acquaintance’s spouse or special friend: you could regret it.
- Don’t act like you’re an F.B.I. agent. Questions like: “What do you do?” “Are you married?” “Do you have children?” and “Where are you from?” lead to dead end conversations.
- Be aware of body language. Nervous or ill-at-ease people make others uncomfortable. Act confident and comfortable, even when you’re not.
- Be prepared. Spend a few minutes before an anticipated event preparing to talk easily about three topics. They will come in handy when you find yourself in the middle of an awkward moment…or seated at a table of eight where people are playing with their food.
- Show an interest in your conversational partner’s opinion, too. You’re not the only person who has opinions about the stock market,; weather patterns, or what’s wrong with kids today!
- Stop conversation monopolists immediately. If possible, wait for the person to take a breath or to pause, then break in with a comment about the topic. Immediately then lead the conversation in the direction in which you want it to go.
- Be prepared with exit lines. You do need to move around and meet others.
- Don’t melt from conversations. Make a positive impression by shaking hands and saying goodbye as you leave.
Every encounter involves risk. As long as you keep looking for new people to meet, and you show an interest in other people, you can form new relationships, enjoy lively conversations, and just possibly come away with some new business.