Part of the duties of any professional it seems, are attending social events of a million different kinds. Lunches, conferences, workshops, networking events, cocktails, Christmas parties… you name it. There is nothing worse than walking into a crowded room where you don’t know anyone, to only be forced into dreaded small talk with what feels like thousands of people. To avoid the awkwardness, you could just stand in the corner on your phone and hope no one notices you. But then you realize that yes, you will get noticed, and yes, it will look REALLY bad. Let’s be honest, most of us walk in, look around nervously and hope someone will save us by approaching us first.
No more. Awkward communication is now a thing of the past if you are fierce enough to follow these two simple conversation hacks.
1. Read the paper. Well, I used to say read the paper but now it’s more accurate to say “Read Twitter” since that’s where most of us seem to get our news from. The key is to actually read the news. All of it. You don’t like the Life Section you say? Too bad, read it. Don’t like sports? Tough, at least give it a skim. Get somewhat educated in a variety of topics since you don’t know who you’re going to be talking to, let alone what they will want to talk about.
The good news is, after a week or two of reading all that news you are going to be super excited when you actually talk to someone new and they bring up one of those topics that you just read about.
But how exactly do you get this stranger to bring up a topic? Follow me to hack #2…
2. Ask Questions. That’s right, ask them questions. No one wants to hear you ramble on about yourself, but they will indeed talk about themselves forever. Use that to your advantage.
How? Simple. After the initial introduction, I usually lead with one of two questions. If it’s a local event, I ask her where they work. If it’s an event people are travelling to, I usually ask them first where they are from.
“Hi, I’m Carrie”
“Hi Carrie, I’m Betty.”
“Where are you from Betty?”
“I’m from Brownsville, Ohio”
“Really? I’ve never been to Ohio, how do you like it there?”
That usually opens up a plethora of answers. Listen intently and ask genuine curious follow-up questions. How long have you lived there for? You said your dad is the town butcher, what was that like growing up? What is the annual precipitation of Brownsville? (Kidding, with that last one. Don’t ask questions like that or you will be shunned, and rightly so)
If the conversation fizzles, fearlessly switch to some other topics.
Example 2: “So, do you have any kids?” This is a classic. If they don’t have kids, ask about pets. Have a couple of witty, yet brief, anecdotes about your own kids or pets ready as well. You’re going to let them do most of the talking but a conversation flows both ways and it will be odd if you didn’t contribute something every now and again.
You get the idea.
Asking questions is pure gold. PURE GOLD! I can’t really overstate it. If you do this right, you will barely have to talk at all, and people will walk away thinking you are the most interesting person in the room. (And they will be right)