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Small Talk Your Way to Success

Tags:  Communication Skills, Networking

If you're someone who finds attending business or social events and chatting with strangers a bit unnerving, know you're not alone. Many college students as well as those that have been in the work force for years find that when it comes to networking – with classmates or work mates -- it is not that easy. 

However, it is a very real and very important part of your adult life. Networking, making small talk, and mingling with other students and employees enables you to create new friendships and business relationships, grow your business, or make a connection that will benefit you at some future time.

So if you are faced with a business or social event where you need to schmingle (that's mingle and schmooze), follow these Guideposts to find out how to get started.

1. When Introduced, listen carefully; study business card (If appropriate.)

It is very likely that when you first start to network your nerves will get the better of you and you will be so focused on not making a fool of yourself that you will not focus on the other person. However, to make a good first impression it is important to be attentive.

In fact, for people who are uneasy about sharing information about themselves or being the center of attention one of the best tactics is to shine the spotlight on the other person by asking them questions and allowing them to do the bulk of the talking. This method can make other people feel welcomed because you are showing an interest in them. However, be sure that you pay attention to what they are saying.

2.  Stay relaxed; get person talking by making general remark. Follow with  question that asks for opinion.

One of the most difficult parts of engaging in small talk is finding a mutual topic that you and the other person have in common. Standard, neutral topics such as the weather, movies, or even the purpose of the event are a great way to open and to help to keep the conversation light, but by asking the other person questions you learn more about them and eventually you may find other common topics to discuss.

3. Keep focus on other person; acknowledge and paraphrase as necessary.

One of the best ways to show the other person that you are engaged is to paraphrase. Paraphrasing is merely the restating of what the person said using different words. This way you show you understand and are paying attention.

The importance of using paraphrasing when meeting someone for the first time is to not only keep the attention on them and show them that you are engaged, but to re-emphasize for yourself that you have understood the conversation. Repetition – like a television commercial -- will also help you to remember important information.

4.  Create Opportunity to Leave Conversation at Appropriate Moment

Keep in mind that if you are going to a networking event the idea is to meet many different people, so you don't want to focus all your attention on just one person.

Besides, by spreading your wings and introducing yourself around, not only are you likely to make more important contacts, but you then get a chance to practice your small talk skills. Find an appropriate time to step away – more drink or food, use of the restroom, seeing someone you know – and wrap up the conversation. Then move on to talk to someone new.

The whole idea is that by learning to engage others in conversation, you make connections that may lead to bigger and better opportunities. That's how you small talk your way to success.

For more information on this topic, see the companion Skills in Action video!

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