The Talk of Small
If you’re like me, you’ve been to tons of social events for work or networking or just plain socializing.
Going to social events means enduring the inevitable conversations about the job you do, the weather you see… basically the most boring and uninvested points of conversation possible. But it is the go-to because it is simple and makes no one uncomfortable. Except for me. I’m not a fan of small talk. It makes my skin crawl and my clock tick for the moment I can excuse myself from both the conversation and the event.
Small talk is just a waste of time. It has no value. It gets you nowhere. And it’s completely uninteresting. You go to things to add value to your life. The people you are encountering are part of that value. However, if you aren’t getting information of worth you may as well not leave your house.
You’re welcome to keep on with small talk if you don’t mind people counting the minutes before they can walk away from you. And while I know that is a little harsh… it’s generally... reality. It might feel uncomfortable at first to change the behavior… to create dialogue where typically would be dead air, but I promise it would be worth it.
Do you worry… What do I talk about instead? How do I peak this stranger’s interest? How do I come off interesting?
The most obvious would be to find a commonality. Eavesdropping is a useful tool for this or just look at what they are wearing... who they are speaking to… basically figure out something that you might have in common. You can always talk about a band, a piece of art, a book, or something that is a popular culture reference that you think might fit. Generally it’s best to avoid politics, religion, or anything that might be led by opinion… basically anything that you wouldn’t talk about on a first date.
If there doesn’t seem to be anything, find a complement to throw their way. And be prepared with a point of conversation tying into the complement. (Ex: That purse is super cute. I got something similar at…)
You can talk about yourself. It might be strange to go up to someone and just start telling a tale about your random encounter with an albino spider that crawled onto your windshield while driving, but at least it will be different. Any interesting tale from your week will do.
Have something prepared to talk about. If you don’t lead a life that you find particularly interesting (I believe everyone has something interesting but this is on you) then you’re going to have to research some points of conversation in advance of the event.
If that doesn’t work ask them a question - not about work or the weather but about them. Whatever way you choose, the most important thing is to come in with confidence and comfort… and that my friend, comes with trial, error, and practice. As silly as it seems prepping for interactions in advance will make you more confident and relaxed and will make for a better event.
Here are 10 questions that I often use when speaking to strangers:
Are you from (insert town you are in)? Follow up with questions. If they are from there find out their favorite places to go (like restaurants, spas, trails, museums). If they aren’t find out where they are from.
How do you fill your days?
What’s your backstory?
Did anything interesting happen to you this week? Follow up with a story about your week.
How do you like coming to events like this? Whether you like it or not it’s a commonality. It borders on small talk but you can expand into other events like it that you have been to or that you have coming up. And it can expand into other questions in this list.
What makes you happy?
Have you ever hiked up to the Griffith Observatory? This is an example. Find a location that you find interesting and fairly common that you can talk about for at least 3 minutes.
Have you ever tried (insert any sort of exercise, health regiment, weird therapy that is a little less than common)?
What’s your favorite place in the world? Follow up with yours and why.
Do you cook? Bring up a hobby… whatever hobby you might have where you know enough to occupy some time.
These questions are meant to soften the strangeness and create familiarity because everyone feels uncomfortable when interacting with people they don’t know.
If you ask these questions without any sort of prior introduction it might seem out of left field and some people will think you are weird… but some people will appreciate the break in the monotony of the back and forth they are enduring with everyone else. The more comfortable you get with it the better you’ll be. And the less awkward you’ll feel.
And people will REALLY appreciate this. If nothing else… Come find me, I’ll talk to you.