How to Break the Ice: Small Talk for Big Results

IcebreakerSmall talk, an intimate form of public speaking, can feel awkward! In fact, some see it as idle chit-chat…a waste of time. But small talk is actually the beginning of relationships and can open doors to business opportunities that would otherwise remain closed.

Use these simple tips to make small talk work for you.

1. Have approachable body language.
Make friendly eye contact, both while speaking and listening.
Maintain an appropriate distance. It feels weird when someone invades your space.
Face the person with an open stance (no folded arms).
Put away your phone. Enough said.
Smile and pay attention.

2. Give a friendly greeting.
If you know the person: “Hi, Bob, it’s good to see you.”
If you don’t know the person: “Hi, I’m Amy…what’s your name?” Then repeat their name. This helps you remember the name and also makes the other person feel special. “Sue Williams. It’s good to meet you, Sue.”

3. Have a few starter questions in your back pocket.
Observe something you have in common with the other person. “I see you’re a lefty, too. Are you the only oddball in your family, like me?”
Compliment the other person on something you genuinely admire about them. “I love your purse! Where did you find it?”
Comment on the event you both are attending. “Dr. Jones is a great speaker, isn’t he? Have you heard him speak on other topics?”
Ask a question about the event you both are attending. “Sally gives a great party, doesn’t she? How long have you known her?” or “What’s your connection to this organization?”

4. Remember these general tips:
Ask open-ended questions, rather than “yes/no” questions.
Keep the topics light. This is small talk, not therapy! And small talk should be pleasant, not a sparring match. Avoid potentially controversial subjects. If you hit it off, there’ll be plenty of time for deeper topics later.
Use disclosure with discretion. It’s a good time to tell them you like cats, too. It’s not a good time to tell them you just got out of rehab yesterday! Again, the deeper topics can come later as the relationship develops.
Keep a balance between talking and listening. A good conversation has give and take between the two. Talk a little. Listen a little. Repeat.

5. End gracefully.
When wrapping up small talk, always communicate respect. Don’t leave someone with the feeling that you were just filling time until someone more important walked into the room. Here are a few sample wrap-ups:
“Sue, it’s been a pleasure talking with you. I’m glad to have met a fellow (whatever it is that you have in common). Hope to see you again.”
“Bob, I could chat with you all day, but I see Nancy is about to leave and I want to catch her before she’s gone. It’s been a pleasure.”
“This has certainly been fun talking, but I’ve got a project that’s calling my name. It was great seeing you, Debbie.”

The next time you’re at a conference, networking opportunity, party or gathering of any kind, use these tips to help you break the ice with small talk…for big results.

2 thoughts on “How to Break the Ice: Small Talk for Big Results

  1. Hi Connie,

    I really like #5 — a good reminder. I’m now thinking of recent ‘small talks’ I’ve had — and though I know I do exit appropriately — it is always good to be mindful of how I could improve.

    – Leigh


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