We’ve all been there. You arrive at a party or event where you are required to a) be on your best behaviour or b) schmooze the room and while we all walk into those situations with the best intentions, one awkward silence or misinterpreted kiss/hug is enough to send even the most gung-ho party guest into a spiral of self-doubt.
So, how does one make every interaction with a stranger a thing of long-lasting friendship, and minimal awkwardness? Luckily, we’re here to give you the lowdown on 8 ways you can master the art of small talk in true magnificent bastard style.
Number one rule, don’t be hesitant and always commit. There’s nothing more awkward than watching someone strike up a conversation to run out of steam and slowly crash and burn into a tongue-tied mess right before your very eyes. Have a plan of attack and jump into the unknown, head first.
#2 Lower Your Expectations
Don’t walk into an interaction expecting to make a lifelong friend, score a number or seal a lucrative business deal. Go into it with a relaxed and open mind, and you might just come away with a business card or good book recommendation at the very least.
Relaxed people are generally more enjoyable to be around, anyway, so take a chill pill.
#3 Prepare Yourself
You’re not expected to have studied the Wikipedia, IMDB and LinkedIn profiles of all party guests before you meet them, but a little homework can go a long way. “I never approach a meeting, an industry function, or a networking event without at least three things to talk about,” author of The Fine Art of Small Talk Debra Fine told Fast Company. “When is the worst time to come up with something to talk about? When you have nothing to talk about!”
#4 Ask Questions
It’s a harsh reality, but most people’s favourite thing to talk about is, well, themselves. So give them a good reason to by asking questions. Avoid close-ended questions (with yes and no answers) and aim for ones that allow the person to tell their best stories.
#5 Greet People Appropriately
Don’t expect others to do all the heavy lifting. A general rule when making introductions is to announce names and offer a piece of information about each person to keep the conversation flowing. E.g. “Kate, this is Jane. Jane and her husband just moved here from Cincinnati. Jane is interested in painting and is an artist herself. Jane, this is Kate. Kate is the museum’s director of communications.”
When it comes to whether to kiss or not to kiss on first meeting someone, a handshake is a safer bet unless you’ve met previously.
#6 Diffuse The Awkward
Don’t panic when there is a lull in the conversation. “Silences aren’t as long as you think they are,” Bernardo J. Carducci, Ph.D., director of the Shyness Research Institute at Indiana University told Real Simple. “Remember that if you say something, the other person may need to process it. Think of silence as a transition.” Roberts adds, “Sometimes silence is appropriate. You don’t want to seem like a babbling idiot.”
If you can sense someone wants out of the conversation, let them do so, otherwise throw something out there to keep things moving along.
#7 Make A Clean Escape
According to Debra Fine, using the phrase “I need” is the perfect way to exit a convo. “I need to get some food, I need to talk to a client over there, I need to meet the speaker.” For extreme situations, establish a ‘rescue me’ signal with your mate – this is something women have been perfecting for years.
#8 Read Body Language
Remaining perceptive to other party guest’s body language is the key to small talk success. Direct eye contact, laughter and a slow nod are all signs that you’re engaging well. Crossed arms, a restless or distracted nature, on the other hand, are all indications you might need to move on.
So there you have it, 8 ways to master the art of small talk. If all else fails, we recommend following the small talk mantra of Brooklyn bartender Christian Gordy, “Believe your own bullshit. Be confident, because you deal with such a wide range of personalities…You want to treat everyone equally, but sometimes it gets a little difficult, so you have to put yourself in that mind space of ‘I’m Number One.'”