Small talk is HUGE

But little people refuse to engage in it.

By Roy Harryman

In any relationship, whether business or personal, things start small.

You don't go from a chance meeting at a Chamber lunch to a job offer as the dessert is being passed.

Instead, things often begin with a type of dialogue we refer to as “small talk.”

The name unfortunately implies this talk is unimportant. In fact, more “important” talk is impossible without this precursor.

Let's dissect an imaginary but realistic example.

  • Location: Business lunch
  • Seating arrangements: Round table
  • Familiarity: You don't know anyone
  • Your name: Newb
  • Sitting next to you: Regular
Now, we can view this situation with terror or optimism. As something to endure or an opportunity.


The dialogue

Newb: “Hello, I'm Newb. How are you today?”

Anonymous person: “Oh, hello, I'm Regular.”

(Newb uses a pen to quickly jot down Regular's name.)

Newb: “Regular, good to meet you. Are you a regular at these events?”

Regular: “Yes, I attend them regularly.”

Newb: “What do you like about them?”

Regular: “Well there's the ...”

I don't need to continue the dialogue to establish that:

  • The ice must be broken and someone must break it. 
  • The one who breaks it demonstrates that she is interested in people, has social skills and is unafraid to take a small risk. Newb has done this.
  • Newb has the ability to move beyond herself and express genuine interest in others.
  • She is able to draw others out in non-threatening but significant ways (“What do you like about it?”).
  • Newb knows Regular's name.

This, done in less than two minutes, is quite a significant feat. Unfortunately, it has been thrown into a bin called “small talk.” However, Newb has in fact demonstrated significant social and business skills.

The important talk that Newb has engaged in can lead to more conversation, an exchange of business cards (meaning “I want to hear more from you”) a LinkedIn connection and then who knows what? The sky really is the limit. But without small talk, Newb would be stuck idling on the ground.

Small talk is HUUUUUUGE. 

So how do you get from here to there?

For starters, all of us must grow from where we are, whether we are extroverts or introverts. (BTW: Extroverts are sometimes terrible at small talk because they can't shut up. Simply talking about yourself is no advantage.)

An introvert at heart, I used to be horrible at small talk. I certainly tried, but it felt – and was – forced. The only antidote, if you're a bit shy, is to start doing it and keep going. Eventually you'll develop your own particular brand of small talk. No matter what, you need to be yourself – but your best self, not the inner child hiding behind your mom at the doctor's office fearing a vaccination. 

Remember your body language
It doesn't matter what you say if you're looking at your phone, the menu or someone else. Your cover is blown.

Then listen some more. Then stop talking and listen. Then engage Regular about what she just said (because you were listening, right?).

Put down your phone, you imbecile
Sorry about that imbecile comment, but you've got to let go of the obsession/security blanket/pacifier that is your phone and learn to talk to grown ups. Look me in the eye when I'm talking to you son!

No matter how technological we get, deals are ultimately going to be done with people, not machines (unless AI takes over, then we don't have to worry about small talk except, "Hey, have you happened to see a grenade launcher?"). 

Go ahead, drop your phone into a steaming hot cup of coffee. Do it now.

Lame with names?
Stop lying to yourself that “I'm no good with names.” We're good at what we choose to be good at. We remember plenty of names and details that have absolutely no value to our lives:

  • The winning quarterback in the 1994 Superbowl.
  • All five members of our favorite band.
  • The lyrics to our favorite singalong pop song.

What we're really saying is, “I choose to not work at remembering names. I'll do nothing to remember yours. But I hope you'll remember mine.”

Small talk ain't for sissies. And it isn't small. 

Imagine the possibilities of great things coming from your next small-yet-big talk.

It's gonna be huge.

Now go buy a new phone.