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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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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