12 Tips to Mastering the Art of Small Talk
Small talk is a pretty important people skill in the hospitality business. It’s the first step toward connecting to guests, creating a feeling of ease and comfort. It generates business and forges a bond (however brief) that leads to referrals and great reviews.
Small talk is polite. It engages the other person, establishes a connection and doesn’t require a lot of time. No matter if you’re a desk agent, a concierge, food server or bartender, small talk is an important part of customer service.
So, what if you’re nervous, shy or simply need to get better at the art of small talk? There are definitely some things you can do to make it easier and of course, practice will go a long way toward making you more comfortable. Here are some tips to get you started:
1. Initiate a conversation. Be the one who approaches someone and makes a comment or asks a question. Don’t always wait for someone to approach you. Reach out and engage someone by offering a genuine compliment and follow that up with a question. For example, you might say “I notice you’re here for a golf event.” You can then follow up with “What other courses have you played?”
2. Prepare some open-ended questions ahead of time. Some “go-to” topics are typically about family, work, fun and travel. For instance, you can ask “How do you like living in __ (town or area)?” or “What do you do for fun?” or “Have you always worked in __ (industry)?”
3. Share a story. Once you’ve introduced yourself, you might share an anecdote about something related to the event you’re attending. Maybe you’ve traveled to a particular area where the event is taking place or maybe you recently stayed at a resort nearby and can share your experience.
4. Ask about a subject you know little about. Allow your partner to tell you more about what they do or how they came to be part of this conference they’re attending. Let them teach you a bit and ask them to explain a few details.
5. Actively listen. Spend more time listening than talking. Once you’ve hit on a topic and are chatting, show genuine interest in what they’re saying. Ask follow up questions to keep the conversation rolling.
6. Keep it positive. By all means, keep it light and positive. Don’t start off a conversation by complaining. If you can make someone laugh (and it’s not “off-color” or inappropriate), that’s a great ice-breaker.
7. Comment on a topic of general interest. Is there a local sports team that everyone is fired-up about? What about a recent event that was widely attended? Maybe you scan Google News and find a few current events you can discuss (nothing controversial, please.)
8. Be ready to react to what the other person is saying in the spirit it was intended. Laugh at her joke, smile knowingly about a comment or be surprised by a new piece of information. Play along and give some feedback throughout the conversation. You don’t need to be fake, but acting bored and disinterested isn’t going to foster further discussion.
9. Embrace the silence. You may notice that it takes some people a little longer to process what they’ve heard or formulate what that want to say. It’s simply a transition in the conversation. Don’t get anxious.
10. Smile. Using an open stance, good eye contact and a friendly smile will make you more approachable and show others that you’re interested in communicating.
11. Think before you speak. You need to self-edit so you aren’t offending your partner. Take a minute to think about what you’re about to say… it makes you appear thoughtful.
12. Use a graceful exit line. When you’re ready to move on, excuse yourself politely by saying something like “it was nice talking with you. I really enjoyed hearing about….”