“Small talk” is often considered a useless time-filler. However, if used properly, it can actually be a great way to find new business clients, network for a new job and form new friendships. That’s the word from Don Gabor, a communications trainer and author of the book Turning Small Talk into Big Deals. He says that when we engage in chit-chat, we send the message that we’re open to connecting, we build rapport with strangers, and we suss out common interests – which are the building blocks for lasting relationships. So, here’s how to move from small talk to productive dialogue in just minutes, courtesy of the Bottom Line Personal.

  • Bring up a non-threatening topic. Gabor says the best topics are usually found in the immediate vicinity – where you are and what’s going on around you are two things you’re certain to have in common. For example, if you’re at the dog park, ask someone about the breed of their pet. If you’re in a slow line at the bank, joke about how you’ve aged a year since you walked in. Just make sure you do it light-heartedly – people are less likely to interact with you if you seem negative.
  • Target the person’s interests. Your primary goal is to make them feel comfortable. Does this person perk up when you mention a specific topic? If so, steer the dialogue in that direction. Are they immediately open and warm, or initially cool? Match their conversation style, body language and speaking tone. There is one exception, though: SMILE whether or not the other person smiles back.
  • Listen for key-words. If the person you’re chatting with is a potential employer, listen for words such as staff, hiring, manpower, or anything related to job opportunities. Then, refer back to this keyword throughout the conversation. Subtly remind the person that they mentioned it, and ask open-ended questions that encourage them to confide in you. Such as, “You mentioned going into the office on Sunday because you’re short on staff. Will you be getting more help soon?” Then, exchange business cards and make sure you follow up with an email or phone call.