If you are not the type to voluntarily attend events for the purpose of talking to strangers and expanding your realm of contact on a frequent basis, then small talking will probably be a whole other world to you. At least, that was the case for me, as I realized just two weeks ago during a business social event that I had been small talking for a large portion of my university life without realizing it. Apparently I had been “networking” (as Sauder students know all too well) by simply nodding, looking interested, and asking questions – things I already do in lectures.
Small talk can get a little awkward, especially when you are running on meager amounts of sleep coupled with stress-induced lack of motivation. Getting a full seven to eight hours of sleep, and maybe an extra cup of coffee, before a networking event definitely helps getting conversations going the next day. To avoid awkward pauses of non-conversation during small talk, engaging the other person is a must, and this can actually be done quite naturally when you develop interest towards the person you are speaking with, as well as the topic of discussion. Ask questions, and be attentive to any hints that the person you are speaking to is sending.
However, when awkward breaks do emerge, have no fear! Even when you are entirely engaged and ready to talk, the person you are speaking to may not be (maybe they’re tired, or they’re just having a stressful day). Awkward pauses can be turned into great conversation-changing prompts that you can experiment with. Maybe try talking about sports or music, rather than always resorting to academic-related topics, or about the food at the event, which could potentially open doors to a wealth of other topics. Don’t worry if the conversation seems to be like a random bowl of fruit salad, with a mixture of seemingly unrelated topics – there is bound to be one that will interest both yourself and the person you are speaking with.
Asking questions about the other person is great way to develop the conversation. This seems obvious, but I have come to realize that people like talking about themselves more than they admit, and it is definitely something to be taken advantage of. Realizing that people like talking about themselves has made small talk less of a frightening experience for me, because I can now use my interest towards them as people and what they do to both engage in smooth conversation and gain information at the same time. The down side would be that minimal research before the conversation MAY be required. However, if you are confident in your improvisational skills, you could skip this step.
All in all, small talk is fun…damental, because it can potentially lead to a wealth of knowledge, or deeper conversations that exceed greetings, weather and food. Small talk is when both sides are involved and keeping up with the conversation, and can be pleasant when you find unknown areas of interest that you share in common. Think of it as the road that the chicken needs to cross before it gets to the other side – it is a process that needs to happen so you can get to know the other person on a deeper level. Through engaging in small talk, you can discover new knowledge and relationships and people with similar interests and values as you. Small talk can help bridge that distance!