We’ve all been in those social settings where you’re not quite sure where to wander next and who to talk to.
Whether it’s an industry networking function, a social event with acquaintances you haven’t seen since high school, or even a holiday party with extended family. The thought of bringing interesting topics of conversation to the table can be overwhelming.
A few weeks ago at an evening networking function, I really wanted to talk with this group of four or five women who had gathered together. Instead of walking up and introducing myself which, looking back would have been perfectly fine, I strategically made circles around the group. Some might say I hovered. Until one of the women smiled, and motioned for me to come join in.
They weren’t scary, and they didn’t expect me to amaze them with wit and wonderful conversational abilities. Truthfully, they may have been just as apprehensive to approach each other. We all ended up clicking, exchanged cards, and have emailed and kept in touch ever since. I had dinner with one of them last week, and we’re all getting together for Happy Hour next week.
It’s important to remember that it’s not just you who doesn’t know everyone in the room. There are plenty of other people looking to make new connections and are eager to talk to you. Just like me, you probably really do enjoy meeting new people, and hearing what they do and where they live. For those not from D.C. – that last question is actually quite the hot topic of conversation. It’s just about learning strategies to get us over that initial hurdle and get us feeling confident and comfortable.
I happened to read an article on LinkedIn the day of that networking function called, “Do You Struggle to Make Conversation? A Menu of Options for Small Talk,” by Gretchen Rubin. It’s a fun, helpful post that might give you some additional ideas of what to talk about.
“Small talk can be a big problem. I want to be friendly and polite, but I just can’t think of a thing to say,” Rubin says. Here are some of the strategies she gives to help us converse if our minds go blank:
1. Comment on a topic common to both of you at the moment: Keep it positive and don’t complain. And according to Rubin, it’s perfectly okay to talk about the weather.
2. Comment on a topic of general interest: Scan Google News before you walk in, just to make sure you’re up to speed on the day’s events.
3. Ask a question that people can answer as they please: Allow people to choose the focus of the conversation by asking them, “What’s keeping you busy these days?” – this allows them to drive the conversation in the direction that most interests them.
4. Ask open ended questions that can’t be answered in a single word
5. Ask a follow-up question: If they do answer in a single word, or you feel like there’s room for elaboration, ask them another open-ended question on that same topic.
6. Ask getting to know you questions: Ask questions that reveal a hidden passion. For example, “What vacation spot would you recommend I go this year?”
7. React to what a person says in the spirit in which that comment was offered: If you can tell he or she was making a joke, make a conscious effort to laugh. If they offer some interesting, surprising information, react with surprise.
8. Follow someone’s conversational lead: If they bring up a topic, try to pick up on that and ask them about it. It might lead to a great topic of conversation.
9. Along those same lines, don’t try to talk about your favorite topic: You might end up talking too much or seeming conceited. It’s okay to bring up a topic you are knowledgeable about, but just make sure you are not dominating the conversation.