You’re the boss, so you’ve got to talk to lots of people. That doesn’t mean you like it. You may even dread it. Now with online as common as offline, you get the benefit of not having worry so much about body language, but your words are more important than ever.
Some people are naturally better with words, and more outgoing. Often, it’s the product of natural skills and a social upbringing. If you have to speak in a foreign language, there’s an added challenge.
In other words, it’s not your fault if you’re not silver-tongued, but it’s something you need to get better at. And you can, but you need to put in a bit of extra work.
Connections start with encounters, and encounters typically start with a bit of small talk. Here are 10 ways to make both you and your company look great.
1. Do your homework
If you’re due to attend any type of gathering, whether a Zoom networking event or an industry gathering, a little reading up will give you plenty to talk about.
For instance, if you’re attending a networking event, find out:
- Who’s hosting and sponsoring it?
- What are the themes?
- Who else is attending, and who do they work for?
Just like in a formal business presentation – preparation is key. Check the event page and another written information. Check the organizers’ profiles on LinkedIn. Google them. See where they're leaders.
When talking to your hosts, you’ll be able to discuss their objectives for the event, show them you care about their success, and try to help them.
You’ll also be able to use what you’ve learned to start conversations with other attendees – perhaps about their work, or about the event’s main talking points.
2. Don’t worry about being an introvert
You may worry about being naturally introverted. That's because you're introverted! So it's fine. Your ability to focus on one person without having to work the room can be a huge benefit. Let the extroverts do their thing.
Anxiety rarely helps small talk, and as Melissa Wadsworth, author of How to Make Small Talk: Conversation Starters, Exercises, and Scenarios explains “Extroverts have the gift of easily conversing and introverts offer the gift of easily listening […] These polar-opposite gifts are actually highly complementary. You certainly won’t encounter the problem of people talking over one another.”
In online meetings, it actually easier to stay quiet, since only one person can talk at once. But stay lightning focused and then address individuals' points one-on-one later in a breakout room or via email or social media.
3. Connect first on LinkedIn or other social media
Whenever you’re meeting someone you want to make a connection with, look-up their social media profile beforehand. Then:
- Read up on their work responsibilities
- Explore any articles they’ve recently written or shared
- Identify any experiences or hobbies you have in common
You might discover a shared interest that you can message them about, or a post you can comment on, inviting a conversation. Either way, you’ll have a starting point for your small talk when you do finally meet them online or in real life.
4. Craft your own story and practice until it’s automatic
As the boss, you explain your business to people all the time. But that doesn’t mean you can’t refine your story.
Being able to quickly and easily adjust your elevator pitch depending on who you’re talking to makes the early stages of small talk that much easier – and helps you rapidly build excellent rapport.
Practice is essential here:
- Write down the main information you want to convey
- Look for concrete examples and surprising details
- Focus on the problem you solve, rather than the product you make
For example, instead of saying “We make micro-irrigation systems,” say “We help people grow grapes in the desert.”
Once you’re created a short elevator pitch (ideally, as short as possible) try it out on your family. Imagine saying it to people of different ages, or people with different levels of insight into what you do.
In time you’ll develop multiple variations you’ll use, without thinking, depending on who you’re talking to.
5. Be the first to say "Hello"
This tip comes from Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk. As she explains, if you’re meeting someone for a second time, you can also take this opportunity to put the other person at ease:
“If you’re not sure the other person will remember you, give the gift of your name to help out. For example, “Jared Holst? Debra Fine… good to see you again.”
6. Stay informed, with an app
Whether you’re showing a new client around the city or mingling with your staff at a business dinner, the news is an endless source of conversation – and staying informed doesn’t have to get in the way of your hectic schedule.
On your phone or other tablet, download an app like News Republic or SmartNews, and stock it with topics that interest you and let you keep updated. Then scan the latest stories when you’re on the train or grabbing a coffee.
7. Ask interested questions
Small talk is a two-person sport. Asking good questions will help you share the responsibility for keeping the conversation flowing, while showing just how keen you are to learn about others.
At formal networking events, it’s especially important to ask interested, contextual questions. For example, asking “What brought you to this event?” and “What do you think about the speaker?” will help set you apart from the hordes of other attendees still clinging to a stilted, “So, what do you do? … and where are you from?” routine.
8. Make use of your surroundings
From the location you’re in, to the clothes you’re wearing – your surroundings can be a rich source of conversation starters:
“Do you know who created that beautiful statue in reception?”; “I love your handbag – where did you find it?”; “Yes, this is my university tie – did you study there too?”
As a bonus, picking up on environmental cues shows you’re attentive and observant.
9. Remember to listen. A lot.
When should you talk? And when should you just listen? Dr. Mark Goulston, author of Just Listen, shares a simple strategy in the Harvard Business Review:
When you start talking, imagine a set of traffic lights:
- For your first 20 seconds, your light is green – if you’re saying something relevant, your listener should stay with you
- For the next 20 seconds, your light is yellow – there’s a risk the other person will begin to think you’re overly chatty
- At 40 seconds your light will go red – it’s time to stop, and do some listening yourself!
10. Use people’s names
Associate a new person’s name with another piece of information about them, in a memorable way – so instead of just Michelle, they become Michelle the Marketer.
11. Keep easy-to-access notes
Jot down a few choice notes after meeting someone – whether it’s about their business objectives, or their love of the Chicago Cubs or Liverpool Reds. That way, when you chat again, you’ll be able to dive back into small talk with confidence.
A simple way is use a contact management solution that lets you scan people’s business cards, automatically creating a digital record you can your notes to.
12. Practice makes perfect
Singapore has a thriving networking scene, with events run by professional bodies, start-ups, technology giants, marketing agencies and more – this Singapore Business Review article offers an excellent run-down.
That’s it. Have some brilliant business conversations!
Confidence, they say, is key. But most people are insecure in one way or another. Your confidence and self-efficacy grow the more you chat. If you're a boss, you've already got plenty to be confident about. So be the boss, boss.