As depicted in the Tom Hanks – Julia Roberts film Larry Crowne, colleges and universities are now offering courses in the art of making small talk. As civilization becomes more reliant on instant access to information about all present, past and future events, our conversational small talk skills have diminished.
The first trick to interesting small talk is to be relevant. When small talk becomes idle gossip or is composed of groundless opinions, the reason to converse does not exist.
Think about the benefits of being relaxed and knowing how to engage someone you do know or someone you do not know on equal ground. Socially, having the gift of gab can start many friendships with persons of both genders. Be it strictly social or strictly business, the ability to engage in lively conversation is the best of all icebreakers.
The reason small talk is an art form and is taught in colleges is that it is highly regarded in business and in personal lives. People that can participate in small talk are people with whom other people want to do business and with whom social acquaintances want to converse.
Improving small talk skills is more than knowing what to say to break the ice and keep it thawed. Good small talk skills require things like good posture, a pleasing smile, a certain presence and excellent eye contact and body language. When all these elements come together, it is a beautiful thing.
Posture – Posture sets the stage. Persons who are hunched over just do not look comfortable do they? On the other hand, persons with good posture seem to influence others to respond in kind. Posture is the first signal that you are approachable. In business or in social encounters, this is an admirable quality.
The Smile – A smile from nearby or across the room says “hello.” The great thing about a smile is that it doesn’t cost anything. The power of the smile is evident these days as dentists are challenged to meet customer demand for whiter teeth. Smiling while being introduced or while being noticed from afar is a signal for, “let’s talk.” The smile can be congratulatory or rewarding or a more personal sign of approval. Use it!
Presence – Confident people have a certain presence. Their posture, their body language and their smile just ooze confidence. In business, this can lend confidence to products, communication, meetings and other important functions. Socially, the confident person is one who commands attention. If you have a message and you want to be heard, a confident delivery is sure to be heard. Of course, to convey that confident message, it is your confident small talk skills that open the door.
Eye Contact – Poor eye contact or the inability to maintain good eye contact is essential if you expect to have a genuine conversation. If your attention is diverted, the other participants will interpret the lack of attention as dismissive. They will quickly begin to seek other person with whom they will have conversation.
In many cultures, poor eye contact is insulting and disrespectful. If the conversation has gone awry, use your small talk skills to bring it back to a happy place where you can be attentive and maintain good eye contact. When it is time to end the conversation, bow out sincerely with a confirming smile.
If you are speaking to a group, you must vary your eye contact. As the instructor of her small talk class, Julia Roberts said that when speaking to groups, you should begin your eye contact in one corner of the group and gradually move the contact to the center and then to the other corner of the gathering. Do not hold eye contact with one particular member of the gathering because that can send the wrong small talk message. The bigger the group, the more expansive the eye contact.
Body Language – People have used body language to interpret everything from debate successes and failures to overly friendly overtures. Body language says a lot about you and your desire to engage in conversation with an individual or a group. Body language can exude energy. It can reveal sympathy. It can also reveal boredom, the cardinal sin in small talk conversations. Likewise, the ability to create and maintain positive body language can empower your small talk skills.
Content – If you do not have something to bring to the table, the small talk attributes listed above will be irrelevant. You can still be a good listener but that may not be your goal. Good small talk requires good content. In preparation of a day or night of small talk, try to anticipate what conversations might rule the hour. Then, be informed. Do some research. Be sure you have current information about a variety of topics. If you are engaging and a good small talker, people will want to hear what you have to say. Just remember that timing is important and being a smooth small talker also means be a dutiful listener.
Richard McMunn is the director and founder of How2become; the UK’s leading career and recruitment specialist. For the last 7 years How2become.com has helped applicants prepare for and pass recruitment processes and assessment centres in order to secure their dream job. Find How2become on Goolge Plus or Twitter.
Originally posted 2013-02-04 19:19:10.
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