Making small talk can be surprisingly challenging. Some lucky people in the world just have the gift of gab and can seemingly pull conversation topics out of thin air, but if you’re like most people, small talk just makes your eyes glaze over.
This is especially true during networking events. Thankfully, Lily Herman offers some excellent tips in her article on navigating the small talk hurdle. If you want to keep the conversation going, she points out, you should probably spend as much time, if not more, on your follow-up question as your conversation starter.
So, what are some good ways to follow up? If you’ve settled on the trusty “So, what do you do for a living?” as your conversation opener, try Paul Ford’s brilliant strategy that he shared in a recent article on Medium.
Just ask the other person what they do, and right after they tell you, say: ‘Wow. That sounds hard.’ Because nearly everyone in the world believes their job to be difficult.
This technique seems to helps your conversation partner see you as someone who really understands and is sympathetic to his or her plight. And, more importantly, it invites the other person to begin talking about himself—and really who doesn’t like talking about themselves?
In fact, according to Victor Cheng, “when you meet someone for the first time, hands down the easiest thing you can do is ask them about themselves.” To do that, Cheng offers another great question that pairs nicely used with Ford’s tip:
One of the tricks is to ask an OPEN question. For CEOs, I usually ask, ‘So how did you get started in XYZ field?’ I’ve never gotten anything shorter than a 10-minute answer. I’ve even gotten 30-minute answers.
To recap, your conversation starter can be “So, what do you do?” followed with “Wow, that sounds hard,” and ending with “How did you get started in that field?” Of course, add your own spin to this, by interjecting some of your own related experiences. But that’s it! Now that you have your one-two punch, you’re ready to take on any networking event, whether you’re a small talk pro or not.
Photo of speech bubbles courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lily Zhang serves as a Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab where she works with a range of students from AI experts to interaction designers. When she’s not indulging in a new book or video game, she’s thinking about, talking about, or writing about careers. Follow her musings on Twitter @lzhng.More from this Author