The best business class I ever took was one I enrolled in for fun. Or so I thought. It was called ‘The Fine Art of Small Talk’ by a woman named Debra Fine. Rather than dismiss the importance of small talk, Deb viewed it as a great way to jump start a conversation that really makes a connection with someone new. The ultimate objective, of course, is to use small talk as the first step in steering the conversation toward a more meaningful discussion.
We typically think of small talk as mindless chatter about the weather. And in one sense, that’s understandable because we all have weather in common. But the idea behind small talk is to discover what else you have in common with the person you just met – something you can actually talk about in depth. That’s how you start to make a connection.
So, what’s the secret? Learn to ask a few non-intrusive questions that prompt your new acquaintance talk about their job, family, hobby or other leisure time activities. You will be amazed at how quickly you learn your new friend roots for the same football team or grew up in the same home town as you did.
Social media can often give you a head start with this. Before I make an in-person sales call, I often look up the prospect on LinkedIn to see if we know people in common, attended the same school, or share similar interests. Just recently, I checked out a prospect’s LinkedIn profile before a meeting and was pleasantly surprised to discover he volunteers with a canine rescue group – just like my family does. You can guess how our next conversation started.
How does this relate to business? I have found that sales pitches go much better if I can engage in small talk first and build some rapport with the prospect based on what we have in common. That makes it much easier to gently steer the discussion into my pitch. And even if I don’t make a sale, I often make a new friend.
P.S. Guess what? Debra Fine is still at it. Although I took her class at least 20 years ago when she and I were both teaching classes at Colorado Free University, Deb is still giving presentations and talking up her book. Check out her website at https://www.debrafine.com/fine-art-small-talk/ . If you have a chance to enroll in her class, do it!