There aren’t many people out there who truly enjoy small talk. A necessary part of life, those small, trivial conversations you have at networking events, casual dinners, and other events can fill even the biggest extrovert with dread, particularly when the minute conversation ceases and the air fills with silence.
These situations aren’t going to cease; small talk is a part of life, and every person finds themselves at an event where they don’t know everyone and conversation is difficult. It doesn’t have to be as awkward, however, if you know how to keep the conversation flowing through a bit of practice and preparation.
It’s easy to start any conversation by talking about the weather. It’s something everyone can relate to, something that affects each and every one of us day in and day out. But as we know, those conversations often stall pretty quickly. After all, how long can you really talk about the temperature?
Prior to an event you’ll be attending, do your homework. Think about the audience at the dinner or party. If you’re at a dinner with your significant other’s family that you’ve never met, for instance, thinking up a few topics of conversation (what your significant other was like as a child; what they do for work; family traditions) ensures that awkward silence will never be a problem – and better yet, conversations might turn quite meaningful. Think ahead of time about a few things you wish to share about yourself with the audience you’re interacting with, and find ways throughout the event to work those tidbits of information into the conversation.
If you do start talking about yourself, find easy ways to segue the conversation into questions about the person you’re talking to. People may find you interesting, but there’s only so long you can talk about yourself without another person zoning out. Always find ways to turn the talk back onto your conversation partner for easy, free-flowing chatter.
What are some sample questions you can ask to get others talking? Discussing a mutual interest, or even just a mutual friend, can be a great place to start. If you’re at a party where you only know one person, for instance, ask others how they might know him or her. Asking other guests how they got there always brings up a little background about that person that can easily flow into other topics of conversation
Ask “how” and “why” questions over those that require just a yes or no answer. Yes/no questions easily stifle conversation. For instance, instead of “do you like your job?” ask something like, “how did you get into that line of work? What do you like most and least about your current position?”
Ask for recommendations. Everyone likes sharing their likes and dislikes, and asking for someone’s recommendations on local restaurants, bars, or art museums shows that you trust and respect their opinion, making them feel more open and likely to engage in fruitful, meaningful conversation.
Introduce them to another acquaintance. Conversation always flows more freely when there are more people involved. If you know someone else at an event, act as a facilitator and bring unknowing parties together. The more people you can connect, the more topics of conversation open up.
All that said, always remember that a little awkward silence really never hurt anyone. Force yourself start getting comfortable with a little silence. It will reduce your anxiety and may even allow conversation to flow more freely while helping you enjoy the talk you do have.
How do you help conversation flow freely at any event? We’d love to hear your ideas.