Sunday, May 17, 2009

How to talk BIG with small talk

Every walk into a room filled with people you don't know and when you looked around it seemed as though everyone was paired off? Ever walk into a group of two or more people and feel like a third wheel, or the odd man/woman out? We have all been there before. Would you like to know how to easily talk to people in those and other situations?

The ETP Network had the pleasure of having a fantastic speaker at out last FREE Weekly Conference Call, Don Gabor, America's Small Talk Expert. Don has written over half a dozen books on the topic of speaking to people. These are my notes on the great insights and tips he shared that evening.

Don Gabor has given his permission to publish this discussion. Click here to find out more about the various tools Don has to offer: multimedia; tips; coaching; books; DVD's; etc. Click here.

Don Gabor – “TURN SMALL TALK INTO BIG DEALS: Using 4 Key Conversation Styles To Customize Your Networking Approach, Build Relationships and Win More Clients”

Small Talk – not irrelevant, or a waste of time. Normal relaxed conversation about everyday topics. Plays a critical role. Shows ones ability and willingness to quickly connect with an individual you have never met. Ex.: “the weather” – willing to communicate. By talking about simple or supposedly uninteresting topics, on is able to exchange a lot of information with people and find what is important to them. You need to listen carefully – pick out the words that have meaning. Take the opportunity to understand a person’s communication style: tone, rate of speech, emotion connection, motivation. There is tremendous value to open the door to another person’s life. It builds your career, helps gain more clients.

Career opportunities – you can network in any situation

  1. Business – small talk, some people like to get right to business, others what to get a sense of who you are through small talk. Who (which type) are you talking to? In general it is OK to bring up business topics, or spend too much with non-business small talk. Taboos: sex, politics and religion. Sometimes sports too.
  2. Social – considered boorish to starttalking business, and looking for that business contact or work opportunity right away. Makes people feel uncomfortable. Small talk about non-business related topics. If the opportunity presents itself, move towards business.
  3. Public – people don’t know you. Any overt selling comes across suspicious and off putting. However, networking can be done. Must be done in a very pushy non-selling way.
There is a difference in networking etiquette for different situations: job fair; waiting for an interview; barbeque; airport; park bench are all different.

4 Key Conversation Styles

  1. Competitive
  2. Amiable
  3. Supportive
  4. Serious
Setting Goals - The goal to find a job is not, and should not, be the only goal when you enter a room, go to a networking event.

Informal conversation – segue. Using your elevator speech is not the most effective way. But you do need to let them know about you.

Toxic networkers – don’t be one. Watch out for them.

Breaking the Ice (the basics)

It is not about "me"; it is about connecting with the people in the room and connecting with them in some way. Engage others for that purpose. Don’t think inward (will they like me, will I being come off too strong, etc.). Don’t do that or you’ll miss the clues. "My attitude" - I have something to offer other people.

When we see two people talking, we assume that they are old buddies and that it is a private conversation. Don’t assume that everyone knows each other because they are talking to each other. Your body language communicates apprehension/fear.

Before you enter the room, what do you want to get out of the networking event? Don’t have just one singular goal. Prep yourself. Know the movers and shakers in your industry: recent news/activities; who is moving from company to company; who has written a recent article and will be at a networking event. Try to get the guest list – research them and remember names from the list. Target certain people who are going to be at the event – you can’t talk to everyone. Send an email or make a phone call to introduce yourself to them and that you would like to meet them at the event.

All speaking is public speaking. You need to prepare.


  • Body posture (stand with arms folded – BAD – shows discomfort; defensiveness; it is a non-receptive signal)
  • Smiling (shows approval)
  • Eye contact (first form of contact).

Q & A Time

I am unemployed. How can I help someone if I don’t have a job?

You’re not alone. Finding employment doesn’t preclude helping others. It increases your potential for finding work. It will come back to you in many other ways. “People will help people that they like. They won’t help people that they don’t like.” You will receive a positive impression from others if you show genuine interest in them and value what they said.

Don’t ever think for one minute that you are sending signals only to the person(s) you are talking to. You are communicating with anyone and everyone that sees you at that moment. If you think it is all about “me”, it will be picked up by everyone before you even meet them, and they will not talk to you.

Go into the room with the desire to help others.

How do you become the person in the room
everybody likes and everybody wants to talk to?

Engage others and facilitate conversations between people. Introduce others to others; grow the group from one-on-one by adding others – becoming a sort of host for the growing group. When people feel you have shown interest in them and care, you’ll make them feel good about themselves. Then they will feel good about you.

Find one or two things that the person is passionate about; show you interest and feelings about that topic. It shows the other person there is a connection. “You are interested in what I have to say. Therefore, I like you!” Continue this and let it grow.

However, don’t go into a room wanting to be the most popular person in the room. Go because you are interested in meeting others to the mutual benefit of both.

When people meet initially there is a ritual happening: the topic they want to talk about; do they want to get to business; etc. If you can’t adapt to the other person’s way of communicating, you will not be able to connect. Four styles mean that you will not connect with 3 out of 4 people or 75% of the time. But how do you tune into the other person’s communication style, and relate on that level? Just like dancing, it takes a while to make a connection. You might have to dance for while before someone is ready to open up. Don’t rush it or give up.

Even if you are prepared. What mistakes do people generally make?

  • Go to a networking event where they already know people, and they stay with them instead of branching out.
  • Not managing your time at the networking event. You want to meet specific individuals, don’t spend too much time with any one individual.
  • Potted plant/growing roots. They expect people to come to them. Circulate. If you are potted plant – impression you are afraid to get out of your comfort zone.
  • Take initiative – introduce yourself first.
  • When you introduce yourself and exchange cards - Japanese style.
  • Close the conversation with the phrase “You have been so helpful. How can I get in touch with you? Can I call you next week? Meanwhile, I would like to meet some other people in the room.”
You are networking the right way when people you are find your interaction beneficial.

One of my present issues is how to not appear cocky and overconfident? Bragging or tooting your own horn.

Provide an example of how you have helped a company, a department, or someone, to achieve a particular goal. Share the experience briefly, show you can be part of a team. Share the glory. Magnify the benefit of what you accomplished.

The primary vehicle to your career is the ability to network and meet people. WIIFT (What’s In It For Them). Show that you can build relationships. Let your communication skills be the way to achieve those goals.