Back2Work: Small Talking Tips

One of my goals here is to be honest and direct with you at all times. Lying, coddling and misleading you won't get you anywhere in life. And puts me on a one-way, nonstop train to Hell. (aka front row at The View.) So let me get this out of the way before I go any further into this post. I hate small talk.

I hate it.

Most people are boring and/or poor conversationalists and I'd rather not force banter and waste my wit on them. And yes, you may be my best friend's boyfriend or the CEO of my company, but if I try and find we genuinely have nothing to talk about or you can't grasp the basic dynamics of a dialogue then I quit.

Then there are those people, people I admire in this realm, who are able to push past the awkward silence, the short responses and paragraphs about laundry, weather systems or teething. (Situations in which I usually find myself trying to come up with ways to frame other people for my suicide, you know, just to keep NYPD busy.)

Making small talk is a skill. And a valuable asset to have as a creative. Don't get me wrong, I'm a social butterfly. I've had conversations with homeless men and head honchos, however, I can't force it or fake it. If I'm not interested, I'm just not interested (why do people always want to talk when I've got my headphones in and it's before 9 AM. What do we have to talk about before 9 AM?) And if you're not interesting, I probably hate you.

You, my precious grasshoppers, should master small talk. Advertising is full of the most random group of attention seeking, socially awkward triviaphiles out there. (Is there a word for people who know a lot of random trivia? I made up triviaphiles.)

You should be able to own an elevator and make a client see your personality. (These are the two main times it matters: When you're stuck on the elevator with your boss's boss or before or after a client meeting, at a client dinner, on a shoot or out at a networking event.)

Here are some tips I gathered (aka copied and pasted) from these articles for us (I definitely need to learn) to get better at making small talk:

10 tips for making small talk

1. As you prepare for a function, come up with three things to talk about as well as four generic questions that will get others talking. If you've met the host before, try to remember things about her, such as her passion for a sport or a charity you're both involved in.

2. Be the first to say "Hello." If you're not sure the other person will remember you, offer your name to ease the pressure. For example, "Charles Bartlett? Lynn Schmidt -- good to see you again." Smile first and always shake hands when you meet someone.

3. Pay attention to what they're saying. When you're making small talk, follow up on phrases; for instance, if they say they're "excellent", ask why – ask where you can get some. If they mention that they're exhausted, follow up on it. When you're making small talk, remember that great conversations and good connections can be just around the corner.

4. Get the other person talking by leading with a common ground statement regarding the event or location and then asking a related open-ended question. For example, "Attendance looks higher than last year, how long have you been coming to these conventions?" You can also ask them about their trip in or how they know the host.

5. Stay focused on your conversational partner by actively listening and giving feedback. Maintain eye contact. Never glance around the room while they are talking to you.

6. Have something interesting to contribute. Keeping abreast of current events and culture will provide you with great conversation builders, leading with "What do you think of ...?" "Have you heard ...?" "What is your take on ...?" Stay away from negative or controversial topics, and refrain from long-winded stories or giving a lot of detail in casual conversation.

7. Ask what movies or books they've seen or read recently. Someone once asked me that at a party. Admittedly, at first it felt contrived, but then we had a fantastic conversation about the book I was reading! Making small talk is about trying new conversations.

8. Talk about TV. Share your favourite TV shows - whether it's Oprah's revelation of The Secret or the your favorite sitcom. If you're Canadian, Little Mosque on the Prairie might be interesting to discuss! Making small talk about pop culture is easy and fun.

9. Share an anecdote about your day. Did you lose your keys or find $10? Maybe you ate at a new restaurant recently, or found a great new CD. Making small talk is about sharing the little things.

10. Watch your body language. People who look ill at ease make others uncomfortable. Act confident and comfortable, even when you're not.