Just returned from the San Francisco ACS meeting where I had the
pleasure of meeting more than a hundred people. It comes to mind
that many of us have a “dickens of a time” trying to start off a conversation.
And guess what? This becomes an important skill in many facets
of business. Becoming better at this is one of life’s pleasures as one
never knows what nice things can take place. Not knowing the first
thing about small talk can seem like a high barrier to overcome in
introductions, networking and interviewing.
As we were flying on our last leg on our return flight from Chicago,
a conversation was struck up with the MBA from Norhwestern who
was seated next to me. It was a couple hour flight and there are only
so many times you can look through the airline magazines, your meeting
notes and the book I finished on the flight west. So, at a moment of
common break, as all of us I asked about her reading of the NYTimes
Science section and science fiction book, and drew out of each of us
some common ground for story telling, interest sharing and funny experiences.
The conversation will not go further than the two seats on Southwest
Airlines. But the memory of our strategies for doing small talk will. She
related that she likes to talk about family, travel experiences, books or
articles read and avocations. My strategies often relate to where we
came from or where we were planning on going, developing some common
ground in interests or background or telling of a recent learning from news
or other source.
Books are written on the subject. Larry King has written a nice one on
being able to talk with anyone (L. King, “How to talk with Anyone,
Anytime, Anywhere: The Secrets of Good Communication,” Three rivers
press.). I wish to narrow the fous of small talk to its role in networking.
One of my favorite career columnists, Perri Capell, wrote a recent
column “Networking Small Talk that can pay off Big Time.” [http://www.careerjournal.com/columnists/qanda/strategies/20060606-qandstrategies.html]
She relates the need to establish a foundation. It leads to informal relationship
building. This conversation is more about “the connection” you have made
than about what you actually say. The article suggests there are two broad
categories of small talk– based on chance encounters and those with a specfic
purpose or object in mind. In job searching based networking (one with a
specific purpose in mind), one may not find the initial contact leads to the
desired outcome. As with many good relationships, it is important to share
the common ground, focus on mutual benefit and be genuine.
Despite the category, it is interesting to note that people’s strategies for small
talk can sometimes still remain the same. Small talk can be learned by
observing or interacting with people who are quite good at this art.
It seems that in a sense looking to create a positive outcome is the ultimate
quality of people who are accomplished at small talk.