Great conversations. Without BS (or “small talk”)

The other day I was called on stage to speak on the importance of “small talk.” Out of the blue sky! I wish I’d known better… It was embarrassing since I didn’t have much to say… and what I did say didn’t make any sense! Honestly, I hate small talk!

Allow me to explain:

  1. It doesn’t add any value to a conversation. Sure, a great way to break the ice, but there’s ought to be a better way that’s more authentic. Getting straight to the point works, for the most part.
  2. Speaking comes to us naturally, I don’t understand why there’s a need for a “warm-up.” Do we really need that?

I remember reaching an event late. Only to bump into someone who was so happy. I asked him, “boy, aren’t you happy?” He beamed and said, “well, it’s a beautiful day! Isn’t it?” Here’s the thing — at 41 degrees (celsius) it wasn’t anything close to a beautiful day. The guy was nuts!

I know you’re thinking — “Sunil, you’re just being a sourpuss. It’s a different perspective. A more positive outlook than yours!”

I agree… but a couple of things:

  1. A beautiful day for you doesn’t do anything for me. Chances are, I just might end up despising you for that!
  2. I really don’t need a weather report… I was just outside!
  3. The weather bit is really old. Heck, even calling it a cliche would be an understatement.

I think making small talk is unnecessary. We give it way more importance than it deserves. I don’t understand why folks get offended if you don’t jive with them on weather, politics, work or the hot chick near the water cooler.

Unless you’re really close or are paying me to listen to you… I don’t think I should even bother!

I remember my first time I tried my hand at small talk. I bombed! It was a lady… technically, my interviewer. And yes, I didn’t get the job.

That was enough to push me off the “small talk” bandwagon. Surprisingly, there’s a lot less pressure when you really don’t have to try hard to make conversations. Things just happen. The key is to go with the flow and just enjoy the way conversations make a turn.

So, where do you go from here? Well, you don’t have to. I’ve compiled some of the best tips on mastering the art of starting conversations (without getting into small talk) from some of the revered experts out there. These are the most practical tips that I think anyone can apply right away!

The key is to increase awareness, apply these tactics and then come up with your own. Always be experimenting.

Here are a few suggestions that Vanessa Van Edwards shares in a recent post that I read on the Intelligent Change blog.

  1. Stop asking these questions (or variants thereof):
    • Where do you work?
    • So, what do you do?
    • Hi, how are you?
    • I’m sorry, where are you from?
  2. Ask better questions:
    • Hi! My name is Sunil… what brings you here?
    • Hey, I’m not sure we’ve met. (Generic but simple. In my opinion, it’s the most authentic.)
    • Working on anything exciting recently?
    • What personal project are you working on? (Oh boy! This is one of my favorite questions… everyone, these days is a hyphen, and if you are one, you’d be so excited to hear this!)
  3. Always take their name! And try (hard) to remember it! I think Dale Carnegie once said, “the most beautiful sound in any language is the sound of one’s own name.”

Master the three points above and you’ll be on a roll. Don’t underestimate the power of carving out a few quiet minutes before an important event. This exercise will help you stay focused on the probable topics and trends that you should know and can talk about.

Also, sometimes it helps to be specific. One of my friends literally jots down important revelations, discussions or even observations during an ongoing conference. During the breaks, he simply walks up to people and finds a way to connect to his observations/notes. By the end of a conference, he’s got a stack of business cards and hundreds of LinkedIn connects!

Other resources:

I like Ramit Sethi’s checklist on “how to talk to anyone.”

Neville Medhora wrote another classic on starting conversations. It gets a little technical, but you’ll enjoy it for sure!

Bear in mind these resources do not promote small talk, but starting meaningful conversations that will help you build strong and lasting relationships.

And that is something both you and I will value. Won’t we?

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