I am sure, at one time or another, we have all had the dreaded feeling of attending another group function where we felt slightly awkward because we would have to stand around making small talk with people. Ever been unsure of how to keep the conversation going – me too! Even the most extroverted people, have the planned emergency “my cat is sick” or “my neighbor’s garage door is stuck” text already worked out to make their escape exit as soon as possible. Then others might avoid the function all together.
Believe it or not, these functions can be fun. Yep, I said it, fun. And if you can’t go that far, let’s just agree interesting. The key is knowing how to get and keep conversations going beyond, “Hi, sure is hot/cold/rainy isn’t it?”.
Most people enjoy talking about things they are interested in and all you have to do is kick off their topics. They will do the talking for you. However, remember a really critical key is that you are the listening participant, so listen. Engage in the conversation with head nods, ask more questions where necessary and keep eye contact (without an impromptu stare off of course, ‘cuz that’s creepy).
Here are ten questions to get you started:
- What made you chose your profession? – This might be insanely insightful or they may hate what they do, but either way you can spring into more topics from here easy enough.
- What is now (or has been) your most meaningful way to give back in a charitable way? If they have nothing, they are a slug of society, run! I’m KIDDING!! You could let them off the hook easily by saying either you have been looking for a meaningful way to give back as well. Or even say it took you a while to find the right fit to dedicate your time in the best way. Very diplomatic way to get them out of feeling like “less than” if they aren’t currently investing time charitably.
- What are you reading now? If nothing, maybe ask what they have read recently? If nothing, maybe what was your favorite book in school? If they still have nothing… you are probably trying to start a conversation with the coat rack and very nonchalantly step away real cool like because you are going to look really silly.
- Tell me about your journey that got you here? People are fascinating and their journey is never boring. Hands down one of my favorite questions.
- Do you say YES or NO as a general rule? Why would you say that answer? You have no idea how much this can tell you about a person. Listen carefully.
- What’s one thing you have tried that you are glad you did, but won’t do again? Maybe this is skydiving? Bungee jumping? Eating monkey brains? I don’t know, but imagine what you might learn.
- What is the most important thing I should know about you? Can you just imagine the amazing things you will hear? Think about your own answer….. what is the most important thing you would want someone to know about you?
- What are you most passionate about? I love to hear what really stirs people up. Where are their dreams living?
- Do you have a life defining moment? There is no question or hesitation for me – in my life, the defining moment is when I began a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. Do you know yours? Aren’t you curious about others?
- How can I be of most help to you right now? People are genuinely touched by your true desire to be of help to them. Whether personal or professional, this could be a feasible question. They could have said something in the conversation about their charity that really appeals to you and you want to join in with your help. Or bridge a potential business connection. Maybe you have a product that can solve their problem at work and maybe you know someone else who does you can connect them with.
It is good to keep in mind to gauge your depth of dialog by the event and be respectful of what your conversation partner is open about sharing.
These tips will have you much more comfortable with small talk, making some great connections and maybe even some amazing friends.
They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.
—Carl W. Buehner
You’ve got this! Ashlee Gillis Vickers, CPC