Americans love to socialize. It’s ingrained in our culture and education. Some people even argue that you learn more at University from participating in social activities than you do from actually studying. By the time we start working, most of us have mastered the skills of networking and small talk. Unfortunately, that puts non-native English speakers at a disadvantage. But don’t fret! Here are 10 easy to remember (and use) small talk tips that will help you in your next social situation.
Make the first move: Don’t wait for people to talk to you, take the lead and introduce yourself first. Remember, if you’re at a networking or social event, the purpose is to talk to people! So even if you don’t know exactly what to say, just starting a conversation will take the pressure off and make the other participants feel less awkward!
Find a common opener: Start off with something you both share in common, or can both comment on. This might be as basic as the weather, the conference you’re both at, the music or food at an event, etc. Remember, this is just an opener, you’ll want to find something more interesting to talk about as the conversation progresses.
Use a tagline: “Hi, I’m Ben from Italy.” Add a little something to your introduction, where you’re from or your company, for example. Not only will people remember you better, it also gives them something to comment on instantly.
Ask open questions: Ask questions that allow your partner to elaborate. Asking only “yes” or “no” questions will give you uninteresting answers that are harder to follow up on.
Avoid “no” answers: If your partner doesn’t follow the previous tip, be the better conversationalist and avoid one word answers, especially “no.” Instead, use phrases like “not yet” or “not really” then instantly follow up with a comment or your own question that allows your partner to continue the conversation.
Be positive: In some cultures it’s very common to complain, but try to avoid this in small talk with English speakers. First impressions are important, and you don’t want people to think you’re too negative.
Include others: Make sure you don’t monopolize the conversation! Ask lots of questions and give your partner time to answer. If you’re talking to more than one person, be sure to include the other people in the circle as much as possible. Maybe they’re shy, embarrassed about their English, or too polite to interrupt. Including them in the conversation by asking them (easy) targeted questions makes everyone feel more at ease and shows you’re a good leader and communicator.
Have some suggestions ready: If you live locally or know the area well, be prepared to offer some suggestions of things for your partner to do. A cool jazz club, an art gallery, or your favorite restaurant are all great examples. This makes you sound knowledgeable and gives you an opportunity to share business cards.
Make a smooth exit: If you’ve enjoyed talking to your partner, be sure to let them know! Thank them and hint to future contact. If you haven’t enjoyed the conversation, be sure you have a good exit line to get out of there!
Don’t be afraid of failure: Not every interaction is going to end in meaningful connections. You’re going to have some awkward conversations and failed attempts at small talk. It’s OK. Most Americans have been practicing their social skills since kindergarten, and we’re still not perfect. Each attempt is a chance to practice your skills. In the worst case scenario, you don’t connect. But in the best case scenario? You open the door to a new job, new partnership, or more!