It is a part of any language and communication that many speakers fear more than anything else: Small Talk. The need to "make nice" will help you in business and in your personal life, but for some people it is worse than going to the dentist. In this blog post, our team of English as a Foreign Language tutors look at how to improve your social skills and make small talk in English (or any other language for that matter).
WHAT IS SMALL TALK?
The traditional stereotype of British small talk is that it is confined to the weather, houses and holidays. While this is to some extent true, we hope that after this post you will have a few different ideas of topics to talk about.
POINTS TO NOTE
Remember that it is a proven fact that words only account for 7% of the message being delivered, tone of voice 38% and body language accounts for 55%. Bear this in mind the next time that you are in a social situation.
A lot of people neglect to listen to the person they are talking to, often just trying to think ahead to the next question they should be asking. Remember to listen intently - it is difficult to do because so few people do it!!!
You should resist asking questions that have been asked a million times before. Go to any networking event and people will be asked constantly: "What do you do?", "Where are you from?" and "Why are you here?" Look at making statements about the person: "You look like you are in banking" or "I can't believe that you don't live in London." You could also try the odd tag question (not too many though).
I admit that questions are tricky as you want to avoid asking the same ones but you also have to be careful of being too original. It depends on the situation and the person you are talking to but why not drop in a question like "What is your biggest challenge so far?" or "Who has been the greatest influence in your life?" It should provide for an interesting answer.
If you are going to ask questions, head for "Why?" often. Often, people will ask a question but then never follow it up. Why gets people talking and shows that you are interested.
Nod, shake your head, show interest, ask more questions, smile, seem engaged, relax and enjoy the moment. You are talking with another human being and they could become your friend, lover or boss (or you might never see them again).
Personally, I believe that there are very few "no-go" areas for topics that are up for discussion as long as you act with tact. Some people will argue against talking about politics and religion but I feel that they are both subjects that should and can be broached with diplomacy. I would avoid death, sex and abortion though as these are definitely 'taboo'.
Read widely. Listen to podcasts, the radio, learn about everything. It will help you with your overall English and improve your vocabulary immensely.
THE GET OUT CLAUSE
People love talking about themselves and there are a lot of wonderful people in the world and they are all interesting, but if you are at a party or a networking event then talking to one person for half an hour is not effective or efficient, so you will need a get out clause to move on. One good way is to introduce the person to somebody who might bring value to their lives, another way is to say that you have seen somebody you know and simply must go and talk to them. If you are struggling, there is always the bathroom or the bar.
So, you see that there is no need to hate small talk and socialising with strangers. Go to that party or that networking event with a big smile on your face, an outstretched hand and the confidence to listen and talk directly with somebody who might play a big part in your life soon.
Would you like to develop your English language skills? Unique Language Training can help you with tailored language classes. Contact us on 020 3566 0145, via e-mail or by filling in the form on this screen.
"I'm not great at small talk." Actress Courtney Cox