Friday, January 29, 2010

The Fine Art Of Small Talk

I recently read a short, but powerful book. I originally saw it in a Kinkos and probably over a year later got around to actually reading it. I was going to be taking a short plane trip and wanted something I could easily finish. Debra Fine's The Fine Art Of Small Talk slid right to the top of the list.

The book starts out recognizing that everyone is afraid of being stuck in a situation where they don't know anybody. Where you literally have to start up a conversation with a complete stranger. You absolutely wish somebody would come along and take YOU out of your misery by simply starting up a conversation with YOU. The great revelation is that YOU can be that somebody that rescues somebody else, and in turn rescues each other. The book then goes on to give advice and tips to make it easier to be that person who succeeds in small talk.

At the end of the book, Fine gives a list of Do's and Dont's which I printed off for each car and Jessi and I now review on our way to any event. It serves as a great refresher, and gives us the courage to be better at small talk. I won't give away all of Fine's secrets, but here are some of the good ones:
  • Do take the risk and introduce yourself to others.
  • Don't hope that your grandmother from St. Louis will arrive and introduce you to all these strangers. (Jessi's favorite)
  • Don't use nicknames without permission!
  • Do make people feel special by using their names during conversation.
  • Do ask a person's name if you've forgotten it.
  • Do prepare icebreakers that show a genuine interest and are tailored to the occasion or situation.
  • Do "play the conversation game," offering information about yourself and your activities so others can learn about you.
  • Don't monopolize by speaking for more than four to five minutes - throw the conversation ball back and forth. (I'm guilty of this)
  • Do practice an "elevator speech," offering a couple of interesting sentences about your work.
  • Do use humor whenever possible to overcome uncomfortable moments.
  • Don't tell jokes unless you're a master joke teller.
  • Do get excited about other people's activities and interests.
  • Don't melt away from conversations.
  • Do issue invitations to continue relationships.
  • Do regularly stay in touch with those you meet.
  • Do keep track of what you learn about people so that you can use that information in future communications.
  • Do use open-ended questions such as, "tell me about..." and "How did you come up with that idea?" to jump-start a conversation.
  • Do come prepared to change topics if a conversation has lost steam or encounters a roadblock.
  • Do compliment others about their behavior, possessions, or appearance.

Fine has many more which are just as good. The book is a quick read, and it is worth reading.

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