BizTips from SCORE – Networking starts with small talk

What is the most anxiety-generating activity for you?  Hot air ballooning, riding a roller coaster, going to the dentist, or attending a networking event where you have to talk with people you don’t know?  What will I say?  How will I respond?  How will they respond?  How can I look and feel comfortable in this seemingly “hostile environment”? 

The answer is to learn the art of small talk.

Initiate the conversation.  Just walking up to someone and introducing yourself or asking to join a group in conversation can be an effective conversation starter. 

Initiate the conversation by asking good questions.  Start off all conversations with the words, “Tell me”.  Ask questions to know more about someone or something.  Tell me about yourself.  Tell me what it’s like to be a surveyor.  What motivated you to start your own business? 

Seek authenticity.  The goal of networking is to build relationships beyond the superficial. Those connections that are based on authentic interactions are destined to be long-term relationships.

Keep the conversation going.  When the conversation wanes, and it will, you might consider changing the subject.  When you prepare for the event you can talk about: (1) the last interesting book you read, (2) your last vacation, (3) the last movie you saw, or the latest steaming video series that caught your attention. What issues are you facing today vs pre-pandemic?  What might you want to know that also might be important to the other person? 

Stay focused.  In order for the engagement to be authentic and meaningful, you need to remain focused on the person with whom you are networking.  Put your phone on silent or turn it off totally.  Ignore others walking by, unless they communicate they want to join you. 

Be prepared to Pivot topics.  Current events make good small talk, but stay away from politics, religion, and sexual issues.  Keep the topics light – the latest solar eclipse, the 85-year-old woman walking across the US, the Tour de France, and the Women’s World Cup Soccer tie with the Netherlands. 

Be aware of nonverbal messaging.  55-60 percent of all communications is nonverbal. Only 15 percent is what you say.  

Small talk takes practice.  It is not always comfortable for everyone.  It takes preparation and maybe even practice with an “accountability coach”. 

Contributed by: Marc L. Goldberg, Certified Mentor, SCORE Cape Cod & the Islands,, [email protected], 508/775-4884 Source: 9 Effortless Ways to Make Small Talk Meaningful, Mindjournal, Here’s How You Can Ensure Authenticity in Networking, Texas Young Professionals,, The Art of Making Small Talk to Improve Networking Success, Career Development, 9/15/2017.  Free and confidential mentoring for small businesses and nonprofits.