I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “It’s not what you know – it’s who you know.” Most professional opportunities spark from conversation.
Striking up a good conversation starts with a little bit of small talk. Because someone at a cocktail hour could potentially be your next boss, you want to make sure your short interactions leave a lasting, positive impression. It’s important that you start off the conversation the right way.
Here are some Do's and Don’ts of Small Talk.
1. DO repeat someone’s name.
People will remember when you take extra care to catch their name. When someone introduces themselves to you, respond with “It’s nice to meet you, [their name].”
Using someone’s name yields good results because people love receiving special attention. You are also much more likely to remember someone’s name if you repeat it after meeting them. When the conversation is wrapping up, it doesn’t hurt to repeat their name again. You could use something like, “It was nice talking to you, [their name]. Hopefully we will run into each other again soon.” This will leave a lasting impression.
Have you ever thought someone who looked angry or sad seemed approachable? Of course not! If you’re looking to make friends at an event, you should keep a smile on your face. Nobody wants to start a conversation with a negative Nancy.
3. DO use small talk to start a meaningful conversation.
Making new friends starts with meaningful conversation, but this can feel overwhelming being in a room with many people you do not know. You might be thinking, “Do I even have anything in common with these people?”
The answer is yes! Everyone in the room is at the event for a reason.
Don’t be nervous. For me, one of the easiest conversation starters is a compliment. “I love your shirt! Where did you get it?” is a great way to break the ice. People love to be complimented. You can follow up by asking, “What brings you here?” or “How did you get involved with [organization hosting the event]?”
Asking questions like “Are you from around here?” or “What do you do when you’re not working?” help demonstrate your genuine interest in getting to know someone. This will start an engaging conversation.
Don’t look around for a reason to escape a conversation, even if it is going terribly. Leaving a conversation can be done gracefully. When you notice a conversation is starting to slow down, end it on a positive note. At a natural break in the conversation, smile and find a spontaneous transition. For example, “Well, I think I am going to grab another drink. It was great to meet you, [their name]!” is an acceptable, polite way to end a conversation.
5. DON’T spam your business cards.
If you build enough rapport with someone, it is likely that they will give you their business card. It’s easy to see past people who are simply speaking to you just to get your contact information. You also don’t want to be the person who hands their business card to everyone. Make your connections meaningful by having a conversation worthy of you receiving the other person’s business card.