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Taking small talk to the next level

Welcome to another episode of the Art of Business English. This week Loic and I are finishing our 3-part mini series into small talk. In previous episodes we have shown you how to break the ice and how to initiate conversation. This week we want to show you how you can take your small talk to the next level and get those really engaging and interesting conversations going.

Make sure you watch the video below and follow along with the blog content. 

Watch the episode here

4-step process to building

better small talk

Step 1.

Remember that the way you answer makes the difference between something boring or something deeper.

OPENER: “I found the speaker so fascinating.”
BETTER: “Tell me more about what caught your attention.”

OPENER: “This hot weather is killing me.”
SMALL TALK REPLY: “Me too, I can’t wait until it cools off.”
BETTER: “Do you think the weather affects people’s moods or job performance?”

Step 2.

People generally remember emotionally charged situations, so always try and frame small talk in a positive light.

For example,

“What was the highlight of the talk for you?”
“What did you love most about…?”
“What was most exciting about…?”

Step 3.

Remember to go with non-controversial topics while bringing in semi-personal elements. Look around to identify additional input you might have on the general or specific surroundings. If not using props, use the conversation openers and previous discussion.

Step 4.

Open up a little, find common ground, reveal, a personal example/reference and engage by encouraging a response. (use a what/why/how response with an open question)

Tips to propel the conversation forward

Do not use one word replies yourself

“Me too,”
“Ah ha.”

Use "being questions" such as was...were...are...

  1. Was there ever a time when you felt your time had been wasted? (sympathy question at an obviously boring presentation) How were you thinking this could be used in owr situation? (assuming there had been a small talk around application of what was being presented)
  2. What are you planning to do the rest of the day? 
  3. What were the most important points today according to you? 
  4. How are we able to present ourselves better the next time we meet them?

Start the next sentence with "interesting, why/tell me more”

“That sounds interesting, tell me more…”
“Wow, what a story and what else?”
“No way, why would someone do that…?”
“That’s interesting, why do you think they’re doing it this way?” ”Oh, ok, I think I understand, tell me more about the situation again?” ”So, why do think the speaker was so nervous?” ”uhum, let me ask you something. How would we do this differently next time?”

Actively listen,

In order to actively listen you should follow these steps:

  1. Look the person in the face
  2. Use body language to show you’re listening, lean in, nod your head in agreement
  3. Make listening “sounds”, such as aha, hmm, uhum.

Learn to be an emphatic listener

To do this you need to start to master the following skill set:

      a. A willingness to listen without interrupting
      b. Attentiveness to what is being said
      c. Use of open-ended questions
      d. Naming emotions and feelings
      e. Not passing judgement or trying to “help” or provide an opinion based

          on “your” past experience

Here is an example of emphatic listening in action:

Speaker: “I can’t believe how demanding my boss is, all she does is complain about my work without ever giving me any praise.”

Listener: “If I understand you correctly, you are hurt by your boss’s actions and feel that you do a great job.” 

Some examples of deeper small talk questions

“What do you do to have fun?”
“What do you do to manage stress?”
“Have you been to any good restaurants, movies, shows… lately?”
“What do you love about where you work?”
“Do you see any value in having a mentor?”
“Have you got any advice on…?”

Final thoughts

In conclusion, making small talk is a skill for life, so why not try and take your small talk to the next level so that you can engage people more effectively.

Don’t forget to make the most out of this episode and take my short course on engaging people in conversation. Enrol now and use the code MAKESMALLTALK to get 50% of my signature course. 

Before I go, please feel free to drop your comments below and give us your questions or feedback, we are always here to help. 

See you all then.

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Andrew is the CEO and founder of the Art of Business English. Besides teaching and coaching native Spanish speakers in Business English, he is also passionate about mountain biking, sailing and healthy living. When He is not working, Andrew loves to spend time with his family and friends.

Andrew Ambrosius

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