BY SAIDAH BISHOP
Small talk sucks. It sucks for everyone involved. The awkward pauses, the mental marathon you’re running in your head, racing to come up with another question to fill those awkward pauses--it’s all bad.
But it’s so important! So many opportunities come out of random conversations with people who just happen to know this person, or who know of a networking event you’d be interested in, or who are looking to hire someone with your background, etc.
So instead of treating small talk like a burden, look at it as a skill that you should master. Luckily, we have a few tips to aid you on your journey as you master the one skill so many people neglect:
Tell them something about yourself
This could be as easy as saying where you go to school/work or why you're there. For example,our company recently had to pitch our business to a group of investors, and though most investors came up to us with questions, many didn't. So to start the conversation, I often used this tactic (e.g. "I've been overseeing BLOC's marketing efforts for the past few months and I'm really excited to unveil new projects to the public over the upcoming weeks").
This is a great tactic to put people at ease as they immediately know who you are & what you do and now they have something to ask you about.
Use Open-ended questions
You want to ask questions that aren't too hard for them to answer, but also doesn't let them off the hook by simply answering "yes" or "no". For example, our pitch was hosted by the entrepreneurial center at Princeton University, therefor everyone there was somehow connected with that center. Asking investors how they were affiliated with the center was a great way to keep the convo going as it was something on the front of all of their minds & gave them no option to answer "yes" or "no" and we all know "yes" or "no" answers are often followed by the dreaded awkward pause. So avoid that, by using this tactic.
Make the conversation more casual
People instantly feel more comfortable when you talk about current events, especially well known current events. Just be careful & avoid controversial topics--unless you are 99% you can get away with having that conversation. Around the time of our pitch, companies in Silicon Valley had just released their diversity numbers for the second year in a row, and they were awful! Because workplace diversity is something that is important to our company we were able to have the much frowned-upon conversation about race in a professional environment. (side note: wouldn't say that this made investors comfortable, but it kept the conversation going!) Being able to pull off a controversial conversation is hard to do, but if you successfully make it happen you the G.O.A.T.