Master small talk to build big opportunities

By LISA KLEIN

Communication is essential in business and personal life to help consumers make connections with others in a meaningful way.

Making small talk is a way to open the door into new relationships, but there is more to it than a meaningless exchange about the weather. Practicing some fundamentals is the key.

“The art of communication is very important – at the end of the day you can make or break a relationship or deal with communication,” said Mickey Alam Khan, president of Luxury Portfolio International.

“Small talk is very important to get to know each other, to break the ice and to basically keep the line of communication open,” he said.

Communication breakdown

Unfortunately, small talk is on its way to becoming a lost art thanks to the shift to work-from-home and Zoom meetings.

“We don’t have that much water cooler chat, hallway conversations, cocktail hours or shared meals,” Mr. Alam Khan said. “Everything is timed, everything is controlled and everything is strictly business.”

Luckily for communication’s sake, office days, in-person meetings, conferences, gatherings and parties are slowly returning. To keep them from getting too awkward, small talk will need to be revived.

Indeed, it is a good thing, as getting to know others a bit below surface level can lead to meaningful opportunities later.

“You have a chit chat with this person, and you don’t know if that person may turn out to be a future client, employee, boss or friend,” Mr. Alam Khan said.

“Networking is absolutely key,” he said. “I can’t tell you enough, of all the jobs I’ve got in my life, all the contacts I’ve made, all the advertising relationships, is through networking.”

During that networking, especially with busy and stressed-out executives, it is important to put the other person at ease. Coming across as sociable and not awkward through engaging small talk will create a positive impression and create trust.

To really master the art, one must practice small talk all the time – with the doorman, bus driver, barista, flight attendant – anyone willing to chat for a few seconds.

At larger gatherings or conferences, one should make a point to circulate and talk to a few strangers.

“I want to meet one out of four people in any room,” Mr. Alam Khan said.

Chit chat is good and not necessarily a time waster. Image credit: Getty Images
Creating conversation

After introductions are out of the way, instead of the basic questions about where someone lives and what their job entails, true conversationalists will go a bit further, without getting overly personal.

“The number one thing is to just be informed,” Mr. Alam Khan said. “It’s very important for you to stay on top of current affairs, news and what’s going on in your industry.”

The latest events, whether global or industry-specific, are something everyone will have in common. Finding other commonalities is a meaningful way to connect with someone else, be it food, music, sports or family.

A savvy small talker will also be curious about the other person, commenting on things she is wearing, a drink she is holding or something in her Zoom background, to learn more about their interests and which may be shared.

“Ask more questions than you answer,” Mr. Alam Khan said. “Don’t bring the conversation back to yourself.

“Everyone loves to talk, right?” he said. “Talk about what people are interested in. Find out what’s unique about that person while you’re talking.”

Above all, be genuine. Remembering names and what people said goes a long way towards starting and building a relationship with them.

“This is where chit chat, small talk, ice breakers, warm things up and make you more human,” Mr. Alam Khan said.

“We should not lose our humanity,” he said. “Sometimes just slow down a bit, chit chat, and you never know where the conversation will go.”

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