MYBusiness Magazine – October/November 2005
Start the Chatter – Mastering the Art of Small Talk Can Help Your Small Business
By Emily McMackin
Marilyn Turner dreaded that meeting. A difficult client summoned Turner, who owns two temporary accounting firms in Denver, Colo., and her employees for a tense discussion.
Walking into the angry client’s office, the group noticed snapshots of children and dogs on the client’s desk and asked her about the pictures. The woman got so excited talking about her pets and nieces and nephews that her icy demeanor cracked. “After that, we were her buddies, and we were able to sort out a difficult situation we were having,” Turner says.
Small talk salvaged a client that day, and Turner has used it ever since to build business contacts and keep clients happy.
“Anytime you’re selling or marketing, you need to know how to break the ice with clients and how to handle difficult people,” says Turner, who has turned small-talk advice from conversation coach, Debra Fine, into opportunity.
Fine’s recently published book, “The Fine Art of Small Talk: How to Start a Conversation, Keep it Going, Build Networking Skills––and Leave a Positive Impression”, offers practical tips to help business owners connect with colleagues, clients and customers without selling or schmoozing.
“As pointless as small talk might sound, you can’t take away the fact that it’s the appetizer for relationships,” Fine says. “For business owners, it’s a critical ingredient in their packaging for success.”
People do business with those who not only solve their problems, but also make them feel good, an advantage small businesses easily have over larger companies full of bureaucracy, Fine says.
Fine, a former engineer and wallflower, built much of her business about small talk–from small talk. She makes a point to meet three new people every week, a strategy that gives her visibility as well as friendships. “Every conversation is an opportunity for success,” she says.
IceBreaker Cheat Sheet
If small talk makes you nervous, try these icebreakers the next time you want to start a lively conversation:
“What is your connection to the host/hostess of the event?”
“What do you enjoy the most about this time/season of the year?”
“Describe your typical day…”
“Bring me up to date about your life/work/family since the last time we saw each other…”
“Tell me about your plans for the rest of the year…”
“What brought you to this part of the country?” or “What did you love about growing up here?”
“What challenges do you encounter at this time of year?
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