Business Networking 101: Tips for Making Small Talk Less of a Big Deal

Unless you’re a natural born socialite, walking into a room full of professionals at a networking event when you know very few people can be unnerving. In fact, it can be outright frightening for solopreneurs. But solopreneurs have to at times step outside of their comfort zones and step into uncomfortable environments to make connections and grow their base of business prospects.

That doesn’t mean networking has to be a painful experience though. By learning how to hold your own in the art of “small talk,” you can feel more calm, cool and collected and exude confidence as you meet and greet.

Small talk is that ice-breaking chit chat that opens up the door to more substantive conversations. And it’s not all that easy. I can attest to that! But the more you do it, the more second nature it becomes.

Not quite sure what to talk about? Here are some ideas for making conversation – and making small talk less of a big deal – at your next networking function:

  • Offer something notable about the host organization – Do a little research in advance so you can share some tidbit of info about your host when talking with others. Your host is the common denominator between you and other attendees, so focusing on them when starting your conversation will seem natural.
  • Remark about the venue – Pay attention to your surroundings and make positive, observant comments. Just like the host, the venue is common ground shared by you and others. Talking about it will instantly put you on the same page with whoever you’re chatting with.
  • Ask questions – One of the most effective ways to ease the unease that comes with trying to think of clever things to talk about is to simply ask questions and let someone else do the talking. If you’ve just met someone, keep your inquiries centered on the company they work for and what they do professionally. As your conversation progresses, you’ll probably find yourself talking about non-business topics like family, sports, and hobbies. But don’t get too personal right out of the gate.
  • Talk about news and current events – Look online, read the paper or watch the news so you’re in the know about what’s happening in your community, the nation, the world. Just steer clear of sensitive subject areas like politics and religion.

But small talk isn’t all about your topic of conversation. It’s bigger than that! Your success at small talk also depends on your persona and demeanor. It requires an open, positive attitude that’s welcoming to others. Get in the right frame of mind before networking events and make up your mind to:

  • Be warm and friendly – Smile and be personable.
  • Be inclusive – Don’t leave people out who obviously want to engage in conversation.
  • Make good eye contact when talking with someone – And make eye contact with everyone in the conversation, not just one person.
  • Not monopolize any one person’s time – Mingle – and let others do the same.

With just a little preparation and the right mindset, you’ll more easily and agilely start conversations when networking. Although you might find that it takes some time to find your groove, with practice and repeat exposure you’ll be a savvy small talker ready to take on any crowded room of professionals.

What are your tips for making small talk at networking events? How do you break the ice with people you don’t know?

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