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Last week we focused on maintaining a positive image of yourself and your company by making sure you do all you can this holiday season to keep that ‘good host’ mindset and be a good guest. This week we look at ways to master the art of small talk and socializing.

The Art of Small Talk and Socializing

Ahh, the holidays! A time for a bit of mix and mingle with a holiday business twist. And, even though the season may feel like a never ending cycle of chaos, the holidays do actually present some wonderful opportunities to represent your organization and build your professional brand. It also presents some significant challenges for a lot of those in the business world who struggle when it comes to personal interaction. Admittedly, engaging in small talk and socializing with people you may not know can seem daunting, but with a little practice and some forethought it’s really not so hard. So take our advice this holiday season: To make the most of this year’s holiday social-calendar opportunities, check your perspective, take a few deep breaths, and put these small talk and socializing tips into action! 


Master The Art of Small Talk

One of the more common misgivings about social interaction stems from a fear or apprehension of approaching people you don’t know and initiating conversation. A quick lesson on mastering the art of small talk will give you all the tools you need to face this particular fear and knock apprehension out of the ballpark.


Let’s start with the definition of small talk. Yes, there is a dictionary definition of small talk! The dictionary defines small talk as “polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially as engaged in on social occasions.”  Our suggestion? Take it for what it is and run with it. We’re not talking about recreating the Great Debate! We’re talking about building and maintaining those all important business relationships with your words, actions and appearance.


So, when it comes to initiating or making “polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial mattes,” let’s start with the obvious. Make the effort to become more familiar with what’s happening in the world around you – apart from politics! (We did say “polite” and “uncontroversial”).


Read a summary of the latest book to make the New York Times Bestseller List. No matter if the other person says they don’t read much. Just jump in and ask them what was the last book or article they did read. Find out the name of this week’s top grossing movie. Check the internet to see how your state’s sports team did last weekend. More often than not even people who say they don’t follow sports tend to know how the local teams are doing. And even if the other person insists they hate sports – great!  Admit it’s not your favorite thing either (if that’s true) and take it from there. Nothing in depth is required. You’re just trying to start a conversation or keep one going. Let’s be honest, talking about the weather will only get you so far in polite conversation before people’s attention wanders or you find yourselves beating that proverbial dead horse.


Cultivating a curiosity about the world around you gives you a truly amazing array of topics you can use to start, continue, or redirect a conversation. Try this approach and you’ll never be at a loss for small talk material. Get good at small talk and you’ll begin to develop a reputation for being comfortable with people and someone who is easy to talk to in a social setting. Not a bad reputation to have in business!


Don’t know much about your host? Do some online research or ask around about their interests. If the host is a business or client read up about them – have they recently been recognized for any awards or innovations?  No time to prepare before the event…no problem. Take your cues from other guests, the décor, or the fabulous food (even if it’s not!). And always be an engaged listener by commenting or asking questions. All of these suggestions are great ways to keep the small talk flowing and to discover additional topics to bring up if the conversation starts to lag.


It’s So Nice To Meet You

One of the most embarrassing and potentially stressing aspects for many people when it comes to socializing is the self-introduction. Approaching, meeting, and talking to strangers are all common occurrences seemingly designed to strike fear in the heart of any socially trepidatious individual. But keep in mind, most all social business events are structured as a ‘meet and greet’ so attendees are expecting to have people introduce themselves. Half the battle is already won!


A common question when it comes to self-introduction; “What is the best way to approach an individual or a group of people in a situation where you don’t know anyone?” Our advice is to look around the room and find someone who looks approachable – either someone standing by themselves or someone in a group. Once you’ve found your mark, make your approach with confidence. Look at the person you intend to approach – whether they are alone or in a group – smile and nod, and if necessary, wait for a break in the conversation, then say hello. Extend your hand, say your name slowly and clearly, listening carefully as the person gives you their name in return. Done! You are now ready to amaze and impress with your social skills and seemingly endless supply of small talk. 


Side Note: If you find yourself constantly having to repeat your name after introducing yourself (and your name isn’t particularly complicated or unusual), you might want to make sure you are speaking slowly enough for the person to catch your name the first time they hear it. When we’re anxious, nervous or just excited we tend to rush our words. I always know I need to take a breath and slow down when I introduce myself as ‘Teresa’ and the other person says, “Tracy, great to meet you!” Clear communication in business is key, so always make the effort to speak slowly and clearly when you introduce yourself.   


Another tough moment at any business social event is the inevitable “I’m sorry, I can’t remember your name” situation. What do you do when you can’t remember a person’s name and you need to make an introduction or when they remember you and you don’t remember them? One way to handle the situation is to face it head-on by asking the person for their name. Just smile and say, “I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten your name.” Most people are not going to be offended by this and are willing to forgive and forget especially when the admission is accompanied by a sincere apology.  If you’re really worried about it you could prearrange a signal to use with members of your staff or team, significant other or friend, to indicate you don’t remember a name and need their help (e.g. touching your chin or ear). Here’s also something you can try if you’re just too embarrassed by not remembering: simply turn to the person next to you, gesture to the new comer and ask, “Have you two met?” Typically, one of the two picks up the clue and takes the initiative with a self-introduction.


Mastering the art of small talk and getting comfortable with socializing in a business setting is just one of the ways you can differentiate yourself from the competition.  So this holiday season, check your perspective and use your busy holiday calendar to cultivate a reputation as someone who excels at building and maintaining relationships.


A Few Small Talk and Socializing Tips:


Look For Clues.

No time to research your host before the event – no worries. When you get to the event check out what’s on the bookshelves, look at the pictures on the wall or books on the coffee table for clues about your hosts interests, hobbies or travels. Use these clues to then start or redirect a conversation. 


Ask For Opinions.

In business social settings it’s always best not to dominate the conversation. You risk coming across as boorish or worse yet a know-it-all.  If you’re utilizing your research or worldly knowledge to inspire conversation don’t simply tell people what you think, ask others for their opinion: People love to be asked what they think. The point of small talk is to initiate conversation not monopolize it. Getting people to talk about their opinions is also a great way to move the conversation forward.


Be An Engaged Listener.

Make sure you focus on the person or group you’ve joined. Ask questions and respond with comments of your own. Keep eye contact – not the scary stalker kind – and stop yourself from looking all over the room or catching the eye of everyone walking by. Not engaging or being distracted gives the impress you are just ‘biding your time’ until you spot a better situation or someone more important to talk with – not the way to make a favorable impression!  Make a more favorable impression by staying focused and letting the people you are with know they are important and worth your time.  


By following these simple guidelines you’ll be well on your way to making a terrific impression at your next holiday event and building a reputation as someone who knows the value of social interaction and is an awesome representative of your organization.


Join us next week for our final Holiday Survival Guide episode where we’ll talk about ways to politely disengage from any social situation.


Have a unique perspective you’d like to share when it comes to surviving the corporate holiday party circuit? We’d love to hear it! Send us your tips for surviving and thriving the corporate holiday season to [email protected].



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