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I dread small talk. The word “networking” gives me instant sweats. One of my real opening lines is, “What’s your name? I’ll apologize now because I probably won’t remember it. I’m so terrible with names.” Cue nervous laughter.
Yikes. I clearly need to take responsibility for this regrettable conversation opener. Even so, part of the reason I struggle with remembering a person’s name is that we’re both failing to take the interaction beyond small talk into more memorable and meaningful territory.
These moments happen all the time in daily life, too, and may seem completely trivial. But they can be make-or-break in terms of someone trusting you, wanting to get to know you better or even remembering you at all. Worse still, lacking social skills can stall your career.
Vanessa Van Edwards, author of the book “Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People” and founder of Science of People, is trying to spread the gospel of memorable and meaningful small talk, and she recently shared her tips on this AM Northwest segment:
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Next time you find yourself in a situation where small talk is necessary (networking, meeting new colleagues, talking with neighbors or attempting to make new friends), try these simple tips to take your conversations deeper.
Decide Your Intention
Van Edwards professes that her goal is to “make you the most memorable person in the room.” Her advice before you even go into an event or conversation? Decide your intention. Do you just want to have fun? Make new business contacts? Get to know someone better? Learn something new? Be clear with yourself about what you want so you can get the most out of your interactions.
Ask Probing Questions
Most small talk stays small because people find it risky to probe deeper. According to a survey conducted by business networking and training company Contacts Count, only 1 in 4 people see any value in asking probing questions of strangers.
However, if you’re really committed to getting something more out of your chat, it makes sense to go beyond the surface level. Plus, you’ll probably find yourself happier in the conversation, and will make the person you’re talking with happier, too.
For example, if someone mentions their job, ask them what’s keeping them up at night or what they’re most passionate about. If you’re talking about taking a vacation, ask what their favorite vacation ever was or what their dream vacation would be. When talking about where you live, ask them what their best experiences in your area have been or what they wish was different. Don’t be afraid to keep going and to get them to open up.
Be Engaged and Engaging
You may have heard that using your hands when you talk is a bad look, but on the contrary, research has shown that people who use hand gestures during job interviews are more likely to get hired. Not only will you seem more open, but it will be easier for people to feel at ease and see that you’re excited and engaged. Same goes for eye contact, or even a little change in body language, like tilting the head or leaning forward. These movements help show you’re really listening and are taking an active part in the conversation.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Finally, remember that none of this will immediately feel comfortable or natural. The more you put yourself out there and make these tips a typical part of how you approach conversations, the less awkward it will feel. Instead of the dread of boring small talk, you can look at these moments as little challenges and learning experiences. I know I’ll be trying my best, right there with you.