Last weekend (geez, was it only last weekend? it feels like eons ago) I was on a retreat with the new members of the student board of directors for our office. It was a jam-packed weekend, but it was great, and I learned a lot. One thing I learned, though, was something I did not expect.
A few of the students had mentioned beforehand that they hated small talk, which I feel like everyone says. Well, they were not joking around – and they proved it in spades at the retreat. We had some of the most interesting, fun, and meaningful conversations I have had in a long time, and there was never a dull moment at a mealtime or otherwise. I was so impressed! Inspired by these well-spoken students, I pulled out a few tips that I gathered that kept us from making small talk. I hope these are helpful to you!
1. Be well read. Be up to date on something of interest to you – whether that’s news, pop culture, or some other niche, it will give you something interesting to contribute to the conversation. It will also give you a starting point and a way to relate to people – and also help you contribute content. I find the best conversations are where all parties come away with something new, whether that be a fun fact, point of view, connection, article recommendation, or what have you.
2. Be curious. Ask others to tell you their story and then be genuinely interested in it. Don’t make it an interview, but it’s always amazing to hear about where people come from, their interests, and their expertise, and people love talking about themselves. Chances are they’ll ask you about yourself as well.
3. Throw in a twist. When answering questions, don’t make it straightforward. Throw in a little bit of extra info beyond what the asker was looking for – it will keep the conversation going and give them a lead into where to go next, or at the very least a question to ask.
4. Know your audience. Don’t try to have an in depth, personal conversation with one other person at a dinner table with 10-15 people – although if it ends up happening, let it happen! Allow the conversation to break into smaller groups and have some fun safety topics in mind if possible. Be okay with conversations getting smaller and larger – they’re dynamic and will change from moment to moment as well!
5. Have an opinion. This doesn’t mean be polarizing, but know where you stand on things. If you’re anything like me, this can be as simple as knowing that you hate ketchup (always a fun conversation starter that gets into how you were brought up and eating habits as a kid) to having an opinion about music, TV, sports, etc. It’s not the best idea to go into politics or religion, but again, know your audience – if they want to talk about these things, by all means go for it.
I was going to stop with those 5, but after re-reading, I had to add this last one….
6. Be flexible. Sometimes, a conversation just takes a totally unexpected turn. A person walks up in the middle of an amazing conversation and you have to adapt and work them in. A conversation is tanking and none of your go-to topics are helping. Flexibility is key, and sometimes you have to just throw all the rules out the window and go with your gut.
You can tell I work in orientation with that last one, can’t you? But hey, you never know where life is going to take you, and you have to be ready for everything, so I always say, prepare for the worst, hope for the best! A little dramatic for small talk, I know, but a worthwhile saying nonetheless.