Are You Able to Make Small Talk?

Are You Able to Make Small Talk?

Casual conversation or “small talk” helps you sell yourself, which is frequently the most essential thing that you have to sell.

If you have read my book Eliminate Your Competition or you have read much of the pages of my blog, you know that I frequently talk about the importance of selling three different things:

  • Your product
  • Your company
  • Yourself

In most industries, your product is probably very comparable to several other products on the market. It may be slightly better in a few areas, but it is likely marginally worse in a few different areas. Essentially, it is usually a tie on the features and benefits of the product. The brutal reality is that if it is not a tie today, then it will likely be a tie in the future.

I am sure your employer is fantastic. I also assume that the company that wants to beat you is excellent. While there are undoubtedly differences, there aren’t that many companies that are so awesome that it is the primary reason that you make a sale. In general, companies in the same market are mostly a tie.

That leaves you. In most cases, you and your virtual sales team are the primary reason that you win or that you lose. You have undoubtedly heard the old adage that you didn’t lose; you were outsold. Few deals are truly won or lost on product and company – it is typically the sales team that makes the difference.

The sales team understands how to apply the product benefits to the individual needs of the people making the decision. The sales team knows the correct people that will be interested in those small variations of company benefits.

In order for the sales team to have this capability, every decision-maker in the organization must trust you, and hopefully, they respect you. The best ways to do this is through your innate knowledge of:

  • their individual goals
  • their collective goals
  • your ability to relate the correct information to them in keeping with their goals
  • your ability to engender trust in other people

You can develop confidence in other people by your ability to speak about you, your company, and your product. However, you can accelerate that trust if the decision-maker personally likes you. Personal likeability is not a pure requirement, but few people will trust someone if they absolutely do not like the person. In other words, you do not need to be a personal friend to the various decision-makers, but you definitely cannot be a personal enemy.

Personal likeability is the primary reason that you need to be good at small talk. It makes you a human. It elevates you beyond being the smartest person in the room; it means that the most intelligent person is also a friendly and enjoyable smart person.

If you have read my book Eliminate Your Competition, you likely know that I think that acronyms are quite helpful. I recently came across this tweet on Twitter that creates an acronym for the primary aspects of small talk.

FIRE is a great reminder, and I suggest that you have an “ice breaker” story or two in each of the four categories.

  • Family
  • Interests
  • Recreation
  • Entertainment

During small talk, you’ll get some idea of that odd-shaped part of a human being that’s invisible to the eye and impossible to articulate. Are they kind, hurting, silly, or malicious? Some combination of all of those?

Mastering small talk will help you find common ground to create a mini-bond with new contacts. Small talk may feel trite and unimportant, but it’s the small talk that leads to the big talk.

Ideally, small talk will uncover common interests, business alignments, the six degrees that separate you, the potential need for your product, and basically whether or not you enjoy each other’s company. The goal is not to become best friends or a new client on the spot.

The goal of small talk is to establish enough common ground to determine a reason to connect again.

Keeping a conversation rolling is simple when you learn to listen and ask appropriate probing questions that naturally grow from the dialogue. You only need to prepare a couple of questions in advance. If there is a genuine connection, then you can proactively engage in conversation.

There is a balance between too much and too little business talk. If you don’t talk business at all, you may miss an opportunity to communicate who you are, what you do, and what you have to offer and that you are competent in your field. There are some people who you can know for years and never hear them talk about work. You assume they are retired or not interested in more clients.

Match the depth of dialogue to the environment

You don’t want to let people overhear confidential or inappropriate information. Plus, talk that is too deep at business functions can lead to heated conversations. Over-heated conversations can quickly be subdued by merely making a statement that offers little room for a rhetorical comment. This tactic will diffuse the situation quickly and without incident.

For example, say with a smile, “Well, that’s one issue we’re not going to solve over lunch,” or close the conversation with “I understand your perspective,” minus the “but” that would aggravate the situation.

You won’t win points for always having to be right. You may win the debate while making someone else look bad, but in the end, you’ll make yourself look worse. You will, however, earn points for having social graces if you are the bigger person and cool potentially fiery situations.

You have to know when to let go and kill the discussion even if you believe you are correct on the issue. In the grand scheme of things, we must value the opinions of others and accept that it is not essential to win every debate. The last thing you want to do is to appear as the know-it-all who must end conversations as the perceived winner.

How you make people feel will be remembered

When it comes to small talk, don’t think you must say something amazingly insightful each time you speak. People will likely forget your words but will remember how you made them feel.

No doubt, small talk can get a little dull after a while. So, take it upon yourself to make it enjoyable. To prepare for conversations, rely on FIRE (described above). These will make it easy for you to swing an otherwise stale conversation into one that makes you a genuinely enthusiastic conversationalist.

Have you ever been in a conversation that wasn’t clicking, then suddenly the mood changes, and you both have a smile on your face as the conversation starts firing on all cylinders? That’s because you found common ground. It occurs when two people have an interest in the same topic.

By determining in advance what interests you, half of the equation for stimulating conversation is complete. Now your job is to guide the conversation from topic to topic. Your goal is to solve the foremost half of the equation: What’s of interest to your new contact?

You need to be good at this!

The real key to great conversations is to relax. Let the conversation flow naturally. That’s easiest to do when you’re fully engaged and genuinely interested in the conversation topic and the person with whom you are talking.

When you make small talk, you are primarily selling the one thing that you are the premier expert on: you. Since you are typically the reason that you will eliminate your competition and win the deal, you should practice it until you are extremely good at it.

Header photo Conversation by Sharon Mollerus on 2006-05-17 10:08:20

One Reply to “Are You Able to Make Small Talk?”

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: