If you’re not a gifted conversationalist, the thought of having to meet and converse with new people can be enough to bring you out in a cold sweat. The good news is that there are a number of stock questions which you can use to make the job of ‘small talk’ that bit easier and – who knows? – bring you new and useful connections. The following questions will help you ensure that awkward silences are a thing of the past.
1. Ask about the person’s connection to the event.
A simple, “What’s your connection with this event?” will do. This question is useful, because it can uncover mutual contacts which you should then be able to explore further. It is also an open question that will avoid dead-end ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses.
2. Ask about the person’s interests.
For example, you could ask a question such as, “How do you keep yourself busy when you’re not attending events such as these?” Most people are happy talking about things they enjoy, and the open nature of the question should lead to a conversation. Keep the conversation rolling by asking linked questions or verbalising areas of common interest.
3. Make a non-threatening observation, but present it as a question.
I often comment about the food or drink at an event when making small talk. A non-threatening observation such as “Am I the only one who thinks this wine is amazing?” works well. There’s always the weather to comment on if there’s no food or drink at your event; but make sure your observation about the weather is an interesting one.
4. Expand on a topic that has already been raised.
Refer back to something your acquaintance has said and explore the topic further by asking open questions. Or, if you’ve both listened to the same talk, explore their view of the content of the talk with a question such as: “Which aspects of the presentation made an impression on you?” Then, keep the conversation flowing by asking non-threatening, relevant questions about their interpretation of various aspects of the talk or by pointing out where you have a similar perspective.
5. Find out the length of time they have been doing their current role.
A direct question such as, “How long have you been in your line of work?” is a good one because the response to it will enable you to ask additional questions – for example, about the career path that led to their current role. The response you receive will typically reveal interesting information about their interests and talents; information which you can explore further by making relevant observations and asking further questions.
Being able to initiate conversation is a useful skill to have, particularly if your job requires you to attend events and meet new people on a regular basis. The key to ‘small talk’ is to show genuine interest in the person you are talking to by asking them questions they will be happy to answer. Then, to keep the conversation flowing, actively listen to their responses and seek to establish areas of mutual interest or common ground.
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