May 12, 2006, Newsletter Issue #45: How to Be an Expert at Small Talk

Tip of the Week

Some people seem to be expert talkers. They approach total strangers and are immediately able to be completely at ease and conversational. How do they do it? Here are six tips to help you be a great conversationalist:

1. Become familiar with various topics. Read up on local, national, and world events, including sports, entertainment, and the arts. Make it your assignment to be a generalist. That gives you a better chance of starting and continuing a conversation with a wide variety of people.
2. Ask people their opinions. Prepare three or four questions you can ask at the start of a conversation. Always couch these questions in terms of asking a person his or her opinion. People love to be asked what they think about any number of subjects.
3. Stay away from controversial topics. Politics, sex, and religion: Don’t go there. These are potential argument-starters that can backfire on you
4. Know about your host(s). If possible, learn their interests ahead of time. You can ask colleagues or you boss, or if the event is in your host’s home or office, take note of pictures and other objects for clues.
5. Listen. Listen. Listen. Become a great listener by learning to focus on the person who is talking and tune out other distractions around you.
6. Practice. Practice. Practice. Try talking to people who are “safe” conversational partners: cabdrivers, people at the supermarket checkout counter, the package delivery person. Being comfortable with these folks will help you to be comfortable with strangers at company functions, when the small talk may really matter.

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