Networking tips for the chitchat averse.
Small talk is the bane of the introverted, but it's unavoidable if you want to expand your network. Know that you don't have to be a brilliant conversationalist to master small talk; you just have to put on your game face and take heed of a few tips to break the ice.
Keep it small. Small talk is intentionally superficial--the better to get past the initial awkwardness of meeting someone new. You don't have to say something brilliant or insightful. Small compliments about a tie or scarf, the hors d'oeuvres, or even talking about the weather, are fine--anything that gives you an opportunity to turn to more interesting topics.
Do your research. If you need to attend an event, give some thought about what you hope to get out of it. Then find out who else will be there and whom you'd like to meet. With the prevalence of social media sites such as Facebook or LinkedIn, you can learn something about a lot of people. Keep it positive and not overly personal. Congratulating your acquaintance on a recent business coup is perfect, but asking a stranger about her daughter's violin recital out of the blue would be off-putting.
Have a plan. If you're truly tongue-tied, keep one or two opening gambits in your pocket, and even a follow-up or two for each to grease the conversational wheels. An important part of small talk is to fill in silences--innocuous comments followed by neutral questions are ideal for that purpose. But don't be so afraid of silence that you ramble or cut someone off. Ask your acquaintance about herself and engage yourself in her answers.
Keep your body language open and direct. Approaching someone straight on and with purpose expresses interest in them as a person. Smiling and maintaining eye contact brings a positive focus to the conversation and reduces distractions. Taken together, this body language puts your acquaintance at ease and makes him feel important in your eyes. While you're at it, keep an eye on his body language as well. If he's fidgety or if his gaze wanders, it may be time to excuse yourself.
Don't worry--you're not schmoozing. One of the reasons people avoid small talk is that it feels like schmoozing: approaching someone with an unspoken, ulterior motive. But the goal of small talk is simply meeting someone new, so leave it at that. Have an elevator speech? Save it for later in the conversation, when your acquaintance asks you what you do.
Remember to have fun. Be open to the likelihood that you'll learn something interesting from someone new. And keep small talk in perspective--it's nothing more than a stepping-stone toward making new and rewarding acquaintances.
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