How to Small Talk for Successful Business Networking
Go ahead and initiate with a hello! Even if you recognize, or slightly know someone, re-introduce yourself. Be aware of how he introduces himself (you may know him as Charles, but maybe he goes by Chuck) and use his name throughout your interaction. This will help you remember it in the long run and also establish a personal connection. By taking ownership and initiating a conversation, you will feel more in control to drive the direction of the exchange.
An icebreaker not only provides a way to meet new people, but also helps jump start conversations. For example, using
an icebreaker such as “Tell me about your conference last week...” instead of simply saying hello can lead to a fruitful
conversation, rather than an uncomfortable silence. Some other valuable icebreakers you might use are:
“Bring me up to date on your latest project.”
“What do you find to be the most enjoyable aspect of your job?”
“Tell me about your history with ________.”
“How did you come to find yourself in the health care field?”
You have to be interested if you want to be interesting. Part of your job as a conversation starter is to get the other person to talk. Listen to what your conversational partner is saying and ask relevant follow-up questions. Take cues from them and make a mental list of questions you can ask to get them to elaborate. If you’re talking to Mary in the marketing department, ask what she’s working on, what the new marketing strategies are, how she is impacted by the new branding campaign. This is a great way to brainstorm about future projects, find out about potential clients or build a lasting business relationship. That being said, be sure not to ask so many questions that you come off as an interrogator. There should be a flow and balance when interacting.
Whether you're chatting with a new co-worker or a business function speaker, it's important to stay on a related topic. As long as you stay on a subject you are both familiar with – like your specific field or the day’s event – you’ll be able to communicate easily. Why were you in the setting you’re in? Did you find today’s seminar helpful? Wasn’t the memo this week interesting? Avoid controversial topics like politics, religion, personal relationships and family issues and stick to what you both know is applicable.
It's up to you to keep the conversation going if there are some uncomfortable pauses. Use your setting for ideas to reinvigorate the discussion. Say, “It’s great having our sales conference in a warm, tropical place. Have you been to Mexico before?” Use pauses as an opportunity to compliment your international counterpart. Try, “I’m impressed with what you’re doing for our Asian business. You’ve made some huge improvements in our technology department over there.” This is also a great time to interject with any material you’ve previously prepared.
It's fine if you want to let someone know where you went to college or how many children you have, but be mindful of how much personal information you provide. Sure, your relationship could benefit if you find out both your wives are attorneys, but evaluate the value of the subject matter and its impact on the rapport. If the dialogue gets too sidetracked into personal details, the business-networking angle can become lost. Revealing too many personal details in a business setting can be inappropriate. Use your best judgment to maximize the content of the conversation.
In many business situations, it’s important to make contact with several people and move around a room. If you are in management it is always good to make contact and interact with as many on the team as possible. And sometimes, there is just a good time to move on. Find an appropriate point in the conversation to make an exit. Say, “I really enjoyed talking to you about today’s meeting. I have your card and I’ll be in touch with you this week so we can discuss it further.” Make a plan that is actionable and give a specific time when you’ll follow up. Most importantly, if you say you’re going to do something, do it!
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