How To Turn Small Talk Into Big Opportunities

Does the thought of small talk make your blood pressure rise? Whether it’s from annoyance or fear, this is a common reaction. However, mastering the art of polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters (as defined by Oxford Dictionaries) is an important part of succeeding in the business world.

The author enjoying small talk at a conference.

Small talk can lead to big opportunities if you smile and play your cards right.

How can you turn small talk into big opportunities?

  • Pay Attention to Your Surroundings: Does your company’s CEO have memorabilia from a baseball team in his office? He’s probably a fan. When you share an elevator ride with him, that’s a good topic to bring up. Note what your co-workers display in their work areas; these items are usually important to them and make excellent conversation starters.
  • Listen: We’ve talked before about the importance of listening, but we can’t stress its benefits enough. Be present in a conversation. Don’t spend the time someone else is talking forming your response; listen to what she’s saying. It could be interesting, it could be useful and it could even lead to an opportunity. Perhaps Sally in accounting or a fellow business professional at an event has a connection to a job opportunity you’re eyeing or with a company you’d like to bring on as a customer.
  • Have a Conversation, Don’t Pitch: You’re heading out after a long day, and the CEO happens to be heading out at the same time. Be friendly, say hello and put your aforementioned knowledge of his favorite baseball team to use. Don’t spring your great idea on him as he’s heading to the parking lot. Use chance meetings or opportunities to say hello and build rapport. You’re more likely to be given a platform for your ideas if the right people know who you are and what value you bring to the company. Aggressively cornering them at the Holiday party isn’t the right way to make that happen.
  • Help Others First: Influential people, online or in real life, are used to being asked for favors by people they don’t even know. Be different: offer to help people in your network when you can. Be genuine, show interest and care about other people. Don’t offer to help someone only to expect something in return, or only offer assistance to those in a position to help you. We live in a global, mobile world today, so you never know when you’ll need someone’s help later on — like Sally in accounting.

Related reading: How to turn small talk into smart conversation

Start viewing small talk as an opportunity to get to know others around you instead of a waste of time, and you may be surprised at the results. Remember to pay attention to your surroundings, listen, be conversational and help others first. Your efforts will pay off in the long run in business and in life.

What small talk tips would you add?

Do you enjoy networking events?

A converted networker,

Let’s chat (about small talk, your communication needs or otherwise):
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Best Advice: Figure It Out

LinkedIn’s latest question posed to its Influencers made me think. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? As usual, there’s some great posts worth reading, from Richard Branson’s Protect the Downside to Barry Salzberg’s Lock Your Kryptonite in a Lead Box. You can browse them all here.

LinkedIn Influencer or not, here’s my advice: figure it out. From the time I was young, I had a natural curiosity about me. I loved to understand how things work (and still do), how people accomplish things and how people come up with ideas. I didn’t just want the answer or the solution; I needed to understand how it was achieved. Maybe that innate curiosity coupled with the time and place I grew up instilled a love of figuring things out. As I’ve gone through life, I’ve discovered that this is not a common skill.

sun breaking through the trees

That ‘aha moment’ when you figure something out is an amazing feeling.

Sure, it would be great to live in a world where everything was perfectly spelled out (or upon further thought, probably not), where everything came with a set of easy-to-follow instructions that could be completed in no time at all. But life and business is rarely like that. Whether you’re an accomplished professional or fresh-out-of-college grad, there’s benefits to figuring things out, such as: 

  • You’re seen as proactive. Figuring things out generally leads to viewing situations proactively. What information might be valuable in the meeting tomorrow? What example can I cite on my conference call this afternoon? What other products or solutions may my client be interested in? Yes, it’s a little extra work, but being prepared will make you shine.
  • Your work ethic becomes famous. Hard workers are valued the world over, but especially in America. From the time our ancestors arrived, Americans have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and made a life for themselves. A strong work ethic will still take you places.
  • People value you. When you make the extra effort to figure things out, you usually end up with information — which is valuable. You’ll soon become known as the go-to person when someone has a question or is stuck. Colleagues, business partners, bosses and clients will appreciate your usefulness and recommend you for future opportunities. Word-of-mouth is a powerful thing.
  • The company values you more. $$$ We need people of all levels and abilities, but critical thinkers and problem solvers are generally viewed as more valuable, therefore drawing more compensation. Be a person who figures things out and see your value rise.

So who passed on this valuable advice to me? Quite a few people actually, through words and deeds. My parents are big believers in kids figuring things out for themselves (unless death or destruction is imminent), so they got me started in the right direction. I was fortunate to work closely with two amazing people in my first job out of college, who baptized me in the Corporate America environment. They were always willing to answer questions or explain things, but they never sat behind me and gave me step-by-step instructions. For that, I’m grateful. Finally, I worked for (and survived a crazy culture with) a lady for 6 action-packed years, who I learned so much from. But she too gave me space to figure things out and run with them, which I will always be thankful for. 

Curiosity will not cause us to die — only lack of it will. Never to want to see the other side of the hill or that improbable country where living is an idyll (although a probable hell) would kill us all. Only the curious have, if they live, a tale worth telling at all.  -Curiosity, by Alastair Reid

I’ve tried to pass this same advice onto my employees, colleagues and even clients. Trust yourself: you do know how to do this. I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have or show you how to do something. But there’s something about figuring things out for yourself, too. That sense of accomplishment is an amazing feeling.

(p.s. I’m NOT saying to never ask questions or request help. We all need help sometimes, whether it’s collaborating on a specific project or because our job or business becomes too overwhelming. There’s a lot of value in outsourcing tasks that fall outside of our sweet spot, so that we can focus on what we do best.) 

Speak Up

Do you prefer step-by-step instructions over figuring things out?

Is there a situation where figuring things out is actually detrimental?

Is your preference for figuring things out or being given specific, detailed instructions a generational thing?

Let’s discuss.

Still figuring out life,

I’ve figured this out. Let’s get social!
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What makes you smile?

I’m sitting here polishing my toenails while making updates to my website and a squirrel just ran across my windowsill, stopping to peer in. (Don’t feed the humans!) I realized that I was smiling despite the damage that the little critters can cause.

What makes you smile?

Sometimes a midst the frustration and minor annoyances of day to day life, it helps to take a step back and remember what makes you smile. Then seek out those things, however small, so you smile more and more. It’s amazing what it does for your mood!

Here are some things that make me smile!

my Starbucks #sipface

Showing off my Starbucks #sipface while enjoying some espresso on a beautiful day.

after a day of trail running

I ❤ trail running (and a little mud)!

hitting my goal in the Akron half-marathon

In my 3rd half-marathon, I hit my goal (with the help of my blue toenail polish)!

relaxing on the beach

Soaking in the rays on Hilton Head Island…

I'm contemplating life

Just another day in the life…

Now it’s your turn –> what makes you smile?

Drop your list in the comments below or share your blog post link. I’m looking forward to your responses. Enjoy the weekend, and remember to smile!


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