While there’s often the assumption that it’s introverts that hate small talk — idle conversation about superficial topics — research suggests that it’s actually universally disliked, regardless of personality type. And in networking situations, small talk can sometimes feel inevitable. We’ve all been to events where conversation hovers around the weather, one’s commute, or inoffensive news stories, rather than cementing business relationships.
But is small talk all that networking conversation can be?
The answer is a universal no.
Remember that the whole purpose of networking is to make a connection with someone else; to find a shared affinity. The small talk that’s so unpopular is simply a social lubricant; it isn’t meant to stop there. The key is to drive the connection that you’re looking for and move you out of a space where you feel you’re just ‘going through the motions’. The sooner you do that, the sooner you recognize whether you and your contact have something in common.
So how do you do this?
First, ask open-ended questions that have the potential to open up interesting avenues of conversation. Second (and this is just as important), genuinely listen to their responses. Even if the person’s answer is brief, ask something about what they just said. Listen again. Ask another follow up that unpacks part of that answer, and so on. This will help the other person feel valued, and also help you discern sooner whether you might share affinities that can lead to a longer conversation over coffee.
Beyond the standard introductory questions, there are all kinds of open-ended questions that you can ask to help create an authentic connection. You’ll find that some resonate better with your personality, your field and the type of event than others.
Here are 9 of our favourites:
- What’s keeping you busy these days? (See why Gretchen Rubin recommends this one!)
- Why did you decide to come tonight?
- What resonated most with you from tonight? [if a talk, presentation, speech, etc.]
- What was it that attracted you to your field?
- What do you enjoy most about your field / position?
- Has anything surprised you most about your field / position?
- What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you in your field?
- What is going well for you this year?
- What’s been the highlight of your week?
As you’ll have noticed, all of these questions take you deeper in conversation, while also allowing the other person to share as much or as little as they want at this initial level. The range of potential answers is literally infinite — which means that very soon, you’ll be starting to generate a more authentic conversation. In turn, this will highlight sooner whether you share an affinity and if this relationship might be one to follow up with the next day.
Our RESULTS Members gain 24/7 access to our Webinar, “Cocktails to Cashflow: Planning Event Time & Follow-Up to Make Networking Profitable” (available in video and audio-only content), plus our transcript, Summary and Member Workbook to help work through the learning. Join our waitlist so you’re the first to know when we re-open registration.