Learn how to talk to a stranger? Say what? I hear ya… I used to think that there weren’t many things suckier than having to talk to people that I didn’t know. Man, I absolutely hated situations where I would find myself among a group of strangers and one of them would start off on some seemingly mindless small-talk and expect me to engage in a conversation with them like we actually knew each other or something. For example, I’d be sweating in a long, will-call line in 100-degree tropical weather and I’d be at the mercy of some guy in line in front of me that wanted to explain to me in detail how he would work the ticket lines if he were in charge. “Yeah, bub, whatever” I’d think to myself while smiling and nodding in faux approval of his ‘plan’.
Of course, what I failed to realize back then was that (besides being negative) I was actually wasting tons of huge opportunities to practice the craft of small-talk in a non-threatening environment; a skill that once mastered can brighten your day and fatten your wallet. No kidding.
Here’s the bottom line: We all are sales people. Maybe because of what we studied in college or what we do for a living we don’t see ourselves as ‘selling things’. But boiled down to it’s essence, nearly every time we interact with another human being we are selling something: We are exchanging ideas and opinions, trying to provide something of value to the other person in exchange for something that we get value from. And how does this ‘exchange’ take place? Through communication, of course. And for me, the proverbial light bulb went on when I realized that where I fell short when I compared myself to a couple of great salespeople I knew was in the area of spontaneous, one-on-one communication with people that I did not know. In other words, ‘small talk’.
Think of small talk as a sort of appetizer; an honest foretaste of your personality’s best traits. Not ‘putting on airs’ or being ‘front’, but just being friendly and real. Small talk is the first step in cultivating personal and business friendships; it is what gets you to the next step in those relationships, taking you from acquaintance to friend. And everyone would rather do business with a friend, right? So if you can learn to introduce small talk in a casual way you can pave the way towards creating more fulfilling personal and business relationships with people. You can increase your circle of contacts and be one of those people who seemingly ‘knows everybody’ and can match people up to get their needs met.
When you’re mining for diamonds, you first have to dig through bunch of stuff that’s not worth as much, right? And that’s the essence of small talk. Look for something to talk about, some common ground. It can be a neat car in the parking lot, the view, or something general — the traffic, sports, the Post Office line you’re standing in. You get the idea. Try to be relaxed and not force conversation; and don’t be afraid of saying something dumb. Show the person you’re talking to that you are interested in them by using the words ‘you’ and ‘your’ a lot and be a good listener instead of always trying to be smart and having cool things to say. You’ve got to genuinely value the other person – remember, everyone has ‘their story’ so be a good listener and encourage others to talk about themselves.
And that’s really the biggest key of all – encouraging people to talk about themselves and their accomplishments. Almost everyone has developed a favorable personal story and are almost always willing to share it in detail to an impressed listener. Everyone likes to have their sense of self-worth affirmed, and if you want to come across as a good conversationalist, you need to be an attentive listener. Show interest and ask questions that other people will enjoy answering, while always keeping in mind that the person you are talking to is way more interested in themselves and their issues than they are in you and yours.
Smile and be enthusiastic, think of your presence like sunshine and you’ll make an impression. And don’t take rejection personally. If you’ve put your best foot forward they’ll feel it. They may not show it, but it’s there. And if others are around, they’ll feel it too. Trust me, if you are a like breath of fresh air for them, you’re not an infringement on their time. They’ll make room for you.
Look, almost every conversation can be an opportunity – to make a friend, to snag a business contact or to just exchange a few pleasant words with someone and maybe make them smile because you noticed their ‘nice shoes’. Just don’t be fakey, don’t be the ‘glad-handing networker’. Just try to say a few words that may make someone’s day a little brighter and see where it leads. It’s not that hard. Really.