Whether it’s a friend’s wedding or if you’re trying to make an impression at an event, what is the key to making good small talk?
Many of us default to “how’s the weather” or “where do you work” in an attempt to initiate a conversation, but those questions may not be the best starting point.
Etiquette expert Jodie Bache-McLean believes it is about looking at where you are.
Tips for making small talk
- Use the person’s name
- Talk less and listen more to what the person is saying
- Remember that everyone is as awkward as you are
- Ask for advice — is there something the person can teach you?
Source: June Dally-Watkins
“Whatever environment that you’re in, the questions should be directed about that,” she told ABC Radio Brisbane’s Kat Feeney.
“When you’re wanting to build conversation and engage and create small talk then you should ask open ended questions.
“How and why are the best open-ended question.”
Ms Bache-McLean, who is the director of the June Dally-Watkins deportment school in Brisbane, said the importance of small talk should not be underestimated, as it was our most common form of communication and the foundation of building connections.
“What you’re trying to do is engage with the person and get them to tell you more about themselves,” she said.
“Personal questions shouldn’t be the first thing you ask; always be mindful and don’t ask ‘when is the baby arriving’.
“You need to allow the person to mention the personal things and get them to talk about themselves.”
Does ‘how are you’ cut it?
As Australians, the default can often be ‘how are you’, but it doesn’t always give the response you’re after.
“If you want to be empowered in that small talk and be remembered and engage someone, it’s best to say, ‘it’s nice to meet you’ or ‘it’s a pleasure to meet you’,” Ms Bache-McLean said.
“Also, think about the question, go deeper. For example, you could start with ‘how did you become an artist’ rather than asking ‘what is this painting about’.
“You find with the how and the why questions you get a more thought-out response.”
A good tip to get the ball rolling can be about food or drinks being served at the event.
“Talk about the food or what is being served, but you should avoid people’s weight,” Ms Bache-McLean said.
“We don’t want to have awkward moments and we want people to be comfortable, otherwise they will shut down or walk away.”
Body language is important too
Watching the body language of the person you are talking to is also essential for small talk.
“When you engage in small talk you have to be interested and you will notice the body language,” Ms Bache-McLean said.
“The Royals are taught very well to engage the eye contact and focus on the person they are talking too.
“They may only stay for a few moments but when they are engaging the body language and all that is there.”
She said when things go downhill, body language can also help you notice if you have said something wrong.
“When you ask a question, you can recognise the body language or tone of voice. If you have offended, apologise and get it out in the open.”
Learn to be polite, but not necessarily agreeable
Ms Bache-McLean added that it was often said “that one should not talk about religion, politics and sex” — but can you?
“The point is, if you’re talking about these topics and you have a passion for one or a dislike of another, you don’t crucify someone for their opinion — just be polite.
“You don’t have to agree, you can respond with, ‘I see, I understand’.
“You also don’t have to have a stand-up argument about why you were right and why they were wrong.”
Her final piece of advice, especially when you’re at networking events, was to wear a name tag.
“And always wear them on the right-hand side.”