7 Ways to Make a Big Impression with Small Talk

Small talk might start out small but master the art (and it is an art!) and who knows where it could end up. There is spectacular potential in those first crazy, awkward minutes of so it’s important to make them count. 

Like many skills, small talk will get better with practice. Here are some tips that will have your small talk making a big impression … and who doesn’t want that:

  1. Start small.

    A comment made in passing is a building block for future conversation and relationships. A greeting, a smile, a compliment as you pass – these all make way for the opportunity to make a connection. A smile turns into a hello, turns into a how are you, turns into a chat turns into lunch turns into … who knows? But how exciting is the potential! Don’t try to figure out what the conversation will look like or where it will end up. Just start. Who knows what you could be starting.

  2. Aim for nice, not briliant.

    You don’t need to be funny, witty or brilliant. You just have to be nice. That’s what people will remember. People generally feel most comfortable talking about themselves – (it’s the topic we know most about) so start with that. Asking questions of, and showing interest in another person will leave an impression of you as sociable, interesting, interested – and all you did was listen. 

  3. Don’t filter.

    Filtering all potential conversation through a critical filter will kill a conversation, so none of that. (Of course, there are a few conversation killers – infectious wounds and your ongoing digestion issues, for example, probably aren’t great ones to kick off with although if that’s worked for you in the past then who am I to judge, right?)  If you have a tendency to overthink what comes out of your mouth, you need to know this: Because of the consideration – overconsideration – that you give to what you say, the words that come from you are likely to be spot on, even insightful, meaningful or funny. So just say it – the world deserves to hear from you. 

  4. What to say.

    Before a social event, catching up on current events and news will equip you with potential substance for conversation. Also try taking the conversation along common paths. ‘How did the person you’re speaking to come to be here? How does she/he ono Do you work together? How long? What do you do? Asking about plans for the weekend or holidays can also open up conversation in unexpected directions. Even if the direction is ‘my parole hearing on Wednesday’, you’ve still learnt some valuable information – and what a conversation that will be. 

  5. Building the conversation.

    Conversations can quickly evolve from one topic to another, often ending up on some sort of common ground. Asking someone if they have anything interesting planned for the weekend can lead to a conversation about a restaurant they’re going to on Saturday night, which happens to be Italian, which reminds you of an Italian restaurant you’re fond which is local to you, which leads to a conversation about where you each live, and the things you like or don’t like about living there, which leads to … you get the idea. At this point, the conversation starts to take on a life of its own and you can start to relax. The point when you start to become less conscious of yourself (often around the ten minute mark) is the point when self-consciousness and shyness start to melt away.

  6. The Great Escape.

    The most difficult part of a conversation with someone unfamiliar can be winding it up. Finding a reason to leave helps. Think about it beforehand so you have it ready. Try, ‘There’s someone over there I need to talk to. Hopefully we’ll get to talk again later.’ Or, ‘I just have to grab a drink/ go the toilet/ make a call – I promised the kids. It’s been really nice talking with you.’

  7. Act as if.

    Thoughts and feelings often lead behaviour, but it also works the other way. Let your body take the lead and your mind will catch up. How would you hold yourself differently physically if you were confident about what you had to say. Would you stand taller, chest open, arms not across you, smile, keep eye contact for longer? Would you speak slower? Deeper? What would you say if there were no wrong things to say? Think of someone who actually is confident – or comes across that way – what do they look like or sound like? Even if you don’t believe it at first, acting as if you are confident is remarkably effective at chipping away at shyness or that awkward first five minutes of small talk. 

People like people who like them. It’s that simple. Eye contact, a passing comment, asking questions to show interest – will help to establish a social connection, or at the very least something to build on in the future.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is this: People won’t necessarily remember what you say, but they’ll always remember how you make them feel. All big things start somewhere. The next hello, followed by a few crazy, awkward minutes, might be your somewhere.

2 Comments

nourished roots

I love these suggestions because so often we see people we want to make a connection with but are just not sure how to start. It is true that a simple hello or compliment is often the best way to start!

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heysigmund

Yes – knowing where to start is often the hardest part. I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t love a compliment or ‘hello’ when it’s sent their way. It certainly always means a lot when either are given to me!

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Behaviour is never from ‘bad’. It’s from ‘big’. Big hungry, big tired, big disconnection, big missing, big ‘too much right now’. The reason our responses might not work can often be because we’ve misread the story, or we’ve missed an important piece of it. Their story might be about now, today, yesterday, or any of the yesterdays before now. 

Our job isn’t to fix them. They aren’t broken. Our job is to understand them. Only then can we steer our response in the right direction. Otherwise we’re throwing darts at the wrong target - behaviour, instead of the need behind the behaviour. 

Watch, listen, breathe and be with. Feel what they feel. This will help them feel you with them. We all feel safer and calmer when we feel our people beside us - not judging or hurrying or questioning. What don’t you know, that they need you to know?♥️
We all have first up needs. The difference between adults and children is that we can delay the meeting of these needs for a bit longer than children - but we still need them met. 

The first most important question the brain needs answered is, ‘Is my body safe?’ - Am I free from threat, hunger, exhaustion, pain? This is usually an easier one to take care of or to recognise when it might need some attention. 

The next most important question is, ‘Is my heart safe?’ - Am I loved, noticed, valued, claimed, wanted, welcome? This can be an easy one to overlook, especially in the chaos of the morning. Of course we love them and want them - and sometimes we’ll get distracted, annoyed, frustrated, irritated. None of this changes how much we love and want them - not even for a second. We can feel two things at once - madly in love with them and annoyed/ distracted/ frustrated. Sometimes though, this can leave their ‘Is my heart safe?’ needs a little hungry. They have less capacity than us to delay the meeting of these needs. When these needs are hungry, we’ll be more likely to see big feelings or big behaviour. 

The more you can fill their love tanks at the start of the day, the more they’ll be able to handle the bumps. This doesn’t have to be big. It just has to be enough. It might look like having a cuddle, reading a story, having a chat, sitting with them while they have breakfast or while they pat the dog, touching their back when they walk past, telling them you love them.

All brains need to feel loved and wanted, and as though they aren’t a nuisance, but sometimes they’ll need to feel it more. The more their felt sense of relational safety is met, the more they’ll be able to then focus on ‘thinking brain’ things, such as planning, making good decisions, co-operating, behaving. 

(And if this today was a bumpy one, that’s okay. Those days are going to happen. If most of the time their love tanks are full, they’ll handle when it drops a little. Just top it up when you can. And don’t forget to top yours up too. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it as much as they do.)♥️
Things will always go wrong - a bad decision, a good decision with a bad outcome, a dilemma, wanting something that comes with risk. 

Often, the ‘right thing’ lives somewhere in the very blurry bounds of the grey. Sometimes it will be about what’s right for them. Sometimes what’s right for others. Sometimes it will be about taking a risk, and sometimes the ‘right’ thing just feels wrong right now, or wrong for them. Even as adults, we will often get things wrong. This isn’t because we’re bad, or because we don’t know the right thing from the wrong thing, but because few things are black and white. 

The problem with punishment and harsh consequences is that we remove ourselves as an option for them to turn to next time things end messy, or as a guide before the mess happens. 

Feeling safe in our important relationships is a primary need for all of us humans. That means making sure our relationships are free from judgement, humiliation, shame, separation. If our response to their ‘wrong things’ is to bring all of these things to the table we share with them with them, of course they’ll do anything to avoid it. This isn’t about lying or secrecy. It’s about maintaining relational ‘safety’, or closeness.

Kids want to do the right thing. They want us to love and accept them. But they’re going to get things wrong sometimes. When they do, our response will teach them either that we are safe for them to come to no matter what, or that we aren’t. 

So what do we do when things go wrong? Embrace them, reject the behaviour:

‘I love that you’ve been honest with me. That means everything to me. I know you didn’t expect things to end up like this, but here we are. Let’s talk about what’s happened and what can be different next time.’

Or, ‘Something must have made this (wrong thing) feel like the right thing to do, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it. We all do that sometimes. What do you think it was that was for you?’

Or, ‘I know you know lying isn’t okay. What made you feel like you couldn’t tell me the truth? How can we build the trust again. Let’s talk about how to do that.’

You will always be their greatest guide, but you can only be that if they let you.♥️
Whenever there is a call to courage, there will be anxiety - every time. That’s what makes it brave. This is why challenging things, brave things, important things will often drive anxiety. 

At these times - when they are safe, but doing something hard - the feelings that come with anxiety will be enough to drive avoidance. When it is avoidance of a threat, that’s important. That’s anxiety doing it’s job. But when the avoidance is in response to things that are important, brave, meaningful, that avoidance only serves to confirm the deficiency story. This is when we want to support them to take tiny steps towards that brave thing. It doesn’t have to happen all at once.l and it doesn’t matter how long it takes. Brave is about being able to handle the discomfort of anxiety enough to do the important, challenging thing. It’s built in tiny steps, one after the other. 

We don’t have to get rid of their anxiety and neither do they. They can feel anxious, and do brave. At these times (safe, but scary) they need us to take a posture of validation and confidence. ‘I believe you, and I believe in you.’ ‘I know this feels big, and I know you can handle it.’ 

What we’re saying is we know they can handle the discomfort of anxiety. They don’t have to handle it well, and they don’t have to handle it for too long. Handling it is handling it, and that’s the substance of ‘brave’. 

Being brave isn’t about doing the brave thing, but about being able to handle the discomfort of the anxiety that comes with that. And if they’ve done that today, at all, or for a moment longer than yesterday, then they’ve been brave today. It doesn’t matter how messy it was or how small it was. Let them see their brave through your eyes.‘That was big for you wasn’t it. And you did it. You felt anxious, and you stayed with it. That’s what being brave is all about.’♥️
A relationally unsafe (emotionally unsafe) environment can cause as much breakage as as a physically unsafe one. 

The brain’s priority will always be safety, so if a person or environment doesn’t feel emotionally safe, we might see big behaviour, avoidance, or reduced learning. In this case, it isn’t the child that’s broken. It’s the environment.

But here’s the thing, just because a child doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t mean the person or environment isn’t safe. What it means is that there aren’t enough signals of safety - yet, and there’s a little more work to do to build this. ‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, it’s about what the brain perceives. Children might have the safest, warmest, most loving adult in front of them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll feel safe. This is when we have to look at how we might extend bigger cues of warmth, welcome, inclusiveness, and what we can do (or what roles or responsibilities can we give them) to help them feel valued and needed. This might take time, and that’s okay. Children aren’t meant to feel safe with every adult in front of them, so sometimes what they need most is our patience and understanding as we continue to build this. 

This is the way it works for all of us, everywhere. None of us will be able to give our best or do our best if we don’t feel welcome, liked, valued, and free from hostility, humiliation or judgement. 

This is especially important for our schools. A brain that doesn’t feel safe can’t learn. For schools to be places of learning, they first have to be places of relationship. Before we focus too sharply on learning support and behaviour management, we first have to focus on felt sense of safety support. The most powerful way to do this is through relationship. Teachers who do this are magic-makers. They show a phenomenal capacity to expand a child’s capacity to learn, calm big behaviour, and open up a child’s world. But relationships take time, and felt safety takes time. The time it takes for this to happen is all part of the process. It’s not a waste of time, it’s the most important use of it.♥️

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