Mastering Holiday Event Small Talk

(With many business groups holding holiday parties or events this month, it made sense to re-run this piece on small talk – timing is everything. Best wishes for successful schmoozing!

A reader recently asked about using small talk at networking events or meetings. My simple response – just say ‘NO’ to small talk. It doesn’t help you that much. Go for ‘Big Talk’ instead. The rest of my rant …

  • When you’re attending a business, professional group or networking event, talk should never be small! You’re there to meet people who can help you or who you can help, so just say no to small talk! It’s all about nothing, kinda like ‘Seinfeld’.
  • And you must value your time and theirs, so don’t waste it on trivialities. Politely and creatively start talking about the other person. Ask about the company, the location, their products or services, the story behind the name if it’s unusual or what they like most about what they do. That’s Big Talk because it’s more interesting than the weather, the local sports teams or how good the food is. Unless they serve shrimp.
  • When you do start with small talk for a few minutes, then shift to more business-related content, your strategy looks lame and is totally obvious. So … cut to the crash at the get-go.
  • If you start first, you can quickly learn enough to determine if you want to know more. At that point, if the other person doesn’t return the professional courtesy by asking about you, don’t assume lack of interest. He or she didn’t realize it was your turn! So wait for them to breath and answer the question they didn’t ask. They won’t realize how you’ve finessed the conversation.
  • Don’t mix marketing and networking. – different strategies with very different tactics. Networking is all about sharing information, ideas and resources. Concisely describing your value proposition is networking. Asking for a follow-up meeting to discuss their needs is marketing. Asking for referrals at this point is both marketing and lame. How could a stranger, who knows nothing about your business, refer other people to you?
  • Ask good questions to engage them – always.
    1.  ‘What does your business do?’ – good question. Let’s them talk about their favorite topic – themselves.
    2.  ’What keeps you up at night?’ – while interesting, a bit too personal.
    3  ‘Do you get value from ______ (organization sponsoring event)? – good and can yield useful information for you.
    4.  ‘Can you recommend a good accountant specializing in small service businesses on this side of town?’ – also good, especially if you’re looking for a new accountant.
    5.  ‘Are you more like a Poodle, a German Sheppard or a Golden Retriever?” … really?

So, just say ‘No’ to small talk and ‘Yes’ to starting off networking conversations with Big Talk instead. See if that doesn’t engage other people better and faster and define you as a great conversationalist.