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Small Talk for Big Impact

I recently traveled to Chicago to attend a large national conference, and I found myself weaving through the lively crowds grappling with a familiar feeling: anxiety. Despite the fact that my friends and colleagues often describe me as an outgoing and sociable person, the prospect of meeting new people, making small talk, and networking has always been rather intimidating to me.

“What should I talk about?”

“Will I make a good impression?”

“What questions should I ask?”

“What happens if there’s a lull in the conversation?

After I checked in for the conference and noticed my thoughts racing in the elevator, I took a deep breath and reminded myself of three important truths:

  1. I am not immune to nerves and imposter syndrome. Nobody is!

  2. Small talk may come naturally to some people, but it’s not one of my unique strengths. And that's perfectly okay.

  3. Stepping out of my comfort zone is essential for my personal and professional growth.

With a spark of determination and a mantra of “practice makes improvement,” I opened the Networking Questions to Ask blog post on my cell phone and quickly identified some questions that I could rely on if I was feeling stuck. Those few minutes of preparation lifted an incredible weight off my shoulders and allowed me to feel more confident engaging in meaningful networking conversations.

The Art of Making Small Talk

As I reflect on the connections I made using pre-prepared networking questions, I also want to acknowledge the significance of initial "small talk." Small talk plays a crucial role in setting a comfortable atmosphere and laying the groundwork for deeper discussions during networking interactions. Although topics like the weather, current events, or shared experiences (like getting stuck in traffic on the way to the conference) may seem trivial, they serve as essential icebreakers and starting points for building connections.

Rather than dismissing small talk as idle chatter, it's important to recognize it as a critical step in establishing rapport and finding common ground. It enables us to discover connection points with others, leading to more fruitful discussions about career aspirations, industry trends, shared interests, and potential opportunities. If you ever find yourself in a situation where making small talk feels daunting or you’re not sure how to begin a conversation, remember this mnemonic: L-E-H-I-G-H. These letters can serve as a guide to kicking off discussions with ease and confidence!

L-E-H-I-G-H Small Talk Framework Location - Experiences - Hobbies - Industry - Goals - Humor

L - Location

Ask a simple question about where someone calls home, the venue of the event, or the trip to the event.

  • Is this your first time visiting ____ ?

  • How far did you travel to get here?

  • I'm from Pennsylvania. Where do you call home?

E - Experiences

Ask about shared experiences, whether it's related to the event, industry experience, or educational background.

  • Have you attended similar events before?

  • Are you having a good time so far?

  • What organization are you here with? What do you do there?

H - Hobbies

Mention hobbies and passions to find common ground when introducing yourself.

  • I really like the pattern of your shirt! It reminds me of a painting I did recently.

  • Your bachelor’s is in psychology? So are both of my sisters!

I - Industry

Ask if they have heard about any notable developments, hot topics, and news about the industry.

  • Did you see that article about _____ going around on LinkedIn?

  • Can I ask your opinion on something? I was reading that...

G - Goals

Ask what are they hoping to learn or why they decided to attend/get involved/etc.

  • What brings you to this event today?

  • How did you hear about this event?

  • What is your favorite part about this event?

H - Humor

Don't underestimate the power of humor in breaking the ice. A well-placed joke or a light-hearted comment can instantly make the interaction more enjoyable and memorable.

As I wrap up my time in Chicago, I can't help but reflect on my journey from grappling with anxiety to confidently navigating dozens of networking conversations. It's a reminder that growth often lies just beyond our comfort zones, waiting for us to take that first step. 

So, the next time you find yourself in a crowd, remember this: if you’re nervous, you're not alone, and the discomfort you're experiencing is a sign of growth. Embrace it, lean into it, and watch as it propels you forward. And when it comes to making small talk, don't underestimate its power! With the L-E-H-I-G-H small talk framework and prepared questions in your back pocket, you'll pave the way for meaningful connections and new opportunities.

So go ahead, take a deep breath, and dive into those conversations. You never know where they might lead.

Happy networking!

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