1. Smalltalk relieves tension
I’ve been the person feeling as though no one sees me, but everyone must see how everyone else is ignoring me. The person more comfortable at the edges of the room or around the food table, so I don’t feel I need to engage in conversation. And when someone came over and started talking with me, started asking questions and engaging me in actual conversation, it was a relief. I felt less awkward. I felt less like I stuck out as the proverbial loser. And so I try to find people who seem tense or uncomfortable, people who don’t seem to feel at ease jumping into a conversation or approaching a stranger and starting a conversation. More often than not, being approached and talked to helps melt the tension from their face and stance. For me it’s almost a cheat; I find it easier to approach someone who looks like they need someone to approach them, so it relieves my tension, too. Even when it’s hard to start or join a conversation, once a good conversation is going, it feels good.
2. It’s not about you
You’re conversing, not presenting. Focus on the person you’re talking with. Listen while they speak. When it’s your turn to say something, respond to what they’ve said with your polite opinion, a relevant question, or both (“I thought the Transformers movies had great visuals, but just couldn’t get into the stories. What was it that drew you in?”). Asking questions is a great way to keep the conversation going and to express interest in the other person.
3. Smalltalk is an acquired skill
Have you ever seen the charming person who seems to have no problem talking to anyone and everyone at a party, at a conference, or in any situation? It may not seem like it now, but you can be that person. For most of us, being that charming takes practice, but, with practice, you can be the person who can put anyone at ease, who can be a host’s favorite guest, who can enter into conversation with practically anyone. It’s okay if you’re not good at it, yet. You can get good at it.
4. Smalltalk is a great excuse to keep up with pop culture and current events
Do you ever feel guilty for watching tv or spending time surfing from one article to another? Small talk to the rescue! Keeping up, at least vaguely, with popular television and movies, with interesting news in a variety of fields, and with the latest trends are all things that give you conversational fodder. At a cocktail party where you don’t know what to talk about? How about, “I just read an interesting article on nanobot technology that may help keep people from going blind by measuring oxygen in the retina, removing scar tissue, or delivering medication.”
The article, published shortly before Star Trek: Into Darkness came out, has a natural tie to film (from a different Star Trek series, the Borg used nanobots to assimilate), but there are a lot of different directions it could go — technology, medicine, illness, science fiction, and anything else that feels natural.
I’ll have a future post that talks about how to gracefully leave a conversation, even when it seems excruciatingly difficult. For now though, remember what Susan RoAne, author of How to Work a Room,says,
“Be bright. Be brief. Be gone.”