Yesterday, we talked about how to get someone prepped for a conversation so today we’ll get to the meat of it – what to say. This is where many people find the most difficulty so let’s jump right into it.
5. Comment about the situation.
This is the essence of small talk. Mention the weather, make a comment about the place that you’re at, talk about the lengthy wait or whatever other reason you can think of that builds some commonality with the person you’re about to converse with. You’re both somewhere for a reason so if you’re waiting for a train, a doctor, service for your car or waiting in line, you both have that in common. If the weather is unusually nice or there’s something pleasant about the situation you’re in, mention that.
Just avoid being too negative. Yes, you can build rapport through commiseration but don’t come across as a chronic complainer.
6. Complement the other person.
A lot of people are uncomfortable complementing people they don’t know. Sometimes, they fear they’re giving the wrong message and other times they’re afraid they might come across as nosey. It’s fine to pay strangers complements but you need to judge the situation wisely. For example, a man complimenting the way a women is dressed may be misconstrued as flirting – or creepy if he’s complementing her on her shoes or purse. But things like watches, cell phones, well behaved children, cars or other gender-neutral items are usually safe. If you’re waiting for an oil change, it’s okay to say that you like someone’s car but they might be concerned if you said that in a doctor’s waiting room.
7. Ask a simple question.
This is a little tough for some people, because they feel like their intruding. But if you’re in a waiting area and you see someone reading a book, magazine or article that you are also interested in, it’s fine to ask about it. Also in a waiting situation, you can ask if the wait has been long or if it’s expected to be long.
8. Ask for advice.
No, you don’t want to treat them like their Dr. Ruth. But you can strike up a conversation by asking them the equivalent of asking for directions. For example, if you’re at a train station, you might ask them if they know a better route than the one you take to get there or if other trains are more direct. If you’re waiting for an eye doctor, you might ask someone whether they think you should get glasses or contact lenses. If you’re at an event with food, ask someone which hors d’oeuvres they recommend.
Again, it all depends on your situation so look for these types of things when you’re waiting around.
9. Ask for an opinion.
This is taking advice to the next level and only for the truly bold. If you see someone reading an article or book that has subject matter that people are either for or against, you have a quick way to connect with someone. I was once reading an article in one of the news magazines while on the elliptical at the gym when the woman next to me noticed it and asked my opinion on it. Since she and I agreed on the issue, it gave us an instant connection which resulted in a great discussion. Of course, there is some risk there as people are passionate about some issues and may think less of you if you disagree with them.
However, if it’s something harmless like celebrity gossip, sports or anything that is not considered a hot button issue, there’s a good chance that you’ve found an opening that will get the other person talking.
10. Ask for information.
This is similar to the last four points but is less personal and the real challenge with this one is in keeping the conversation going beyond the answer they give you. If there’s nothing else you can come up and want to talk to this person, then this is the approach to use.
The classic example of this is asking for the time (assuming you’re not wearing a watch or other working device that has the correct time). It’s easy to ask, but once the person tells you, you’ve got nothing to build on. Another option is an “out of the blue question” such as asking if they know what the stock market closed at, if a particular event is going on that night or some other question that will mostly seem random to the person you’re asking.
These questions will all get the other person talking as even if they don’t know the answer, they might ask you questions back such as “are you planning on attending?” or “I’m not familiar with that. What is it?” When you ask such a question, you’ll want to preface it with “you wouldn’t by any chance know…” or “I know this seems like an odd question, but by any chance do you know ..”
So these are just few of the ways to get a conversation going. If you find it difficult to get out there and meet new people, then I recommend starting out a business networking event. Since everyone there is there to network, they’re also easier to approach. If even that is tough for you, I highly recommend going to a speed networking event. These events are even more structured in the sense that you’re actually paired up with several people (one at a time) to network with. On top of that, you’ll have that experience of meeting people and learning from them. So give it a try.