Refining Small Talk

Have you ever been in a meeting or at a conference where you are sitting at a table full of strangers and you are not sure how to start the conversation? How about an awkward conversation where you are not sure what to ask next or how to carry the conversation forward? These are business situations that we have all been faced with. In this blog I wanted to share what I learned at a recent Nebraska Hospital Association Conference of how to start a conversation and how to keep it going.

At the conference, we had the opportunity to listen to Debra Fine as a keynote speaker; and what a powerful opening speaker she was. Debra is the bestselling author of the The Fine Art of Small Talk How to Start a Conversation, Keep it Going, Build Rapport – and Leave a Positive Impression. What truly impressed me was not only the content but how she engaged an entire room. Debra was effective at getting everyone to open up, even individuals that we may consider introverts.

Key takeaways:

  • The Most Important Word in a Conversation – Your Name
    Admittedly this has been an area of opportunity for me. In the past, I would have no problem continuing a conversation, however, five minutes would pass and I could not for the life of me remember the person’s name I was in conversation with. Debra suggested focusing on the name from the very beginning. Try associating this name with something common to you or another person with that same name.
  • Breaking the Ice
    This is about getting past the common conversation pleasantries of “Hi, how are you?” Our goal should be to genuinely connect with the person we are engaging with. A suggestion made by Debra is to utilize location. For example, if the conference is in Nebraska, ask how that individual is tied to Nebraska.
  • Replace “How” with “Tell me”
    Here’s a perfect example: “How was your day?” vs. “Tell me about your day.” Of course, this will depend on the delivery of this question, but using “Tell me” shows genuine interest. This allows for the conversation to go deeper. We live in a society where “How was your day” is not different than “Hi”.
  • Exit Gracefully
    This resonated deeply with me. Closing out an engaging conversation can be tricky and you certainly don’t want to ruin the strong connection you just made. A key suggestion was to wave the white flag or signal to the other person that this conversation is coming to a close. For example, “Before I grab another cup of coffee, tell me what your greatest challenge is with your role” or “Before I catch up with another client, tell me what you enjoyed most about your last vacation.” Either of these examples will give a clear indication to the other party that the conversation is coming to an end.

These are only a few key takeaways of mine and I certainly hope you can apply these suggestions. Debra elaborates much further on a variety of topics and has a lot to offer. The next time you are at a networking event, I challenge you to utilize one of the above takeaways.

Mike DeLanieMike DeLanie

Mike joined Aureus Group Healthcare Administration in February 2014. As a Sales Manager he brings several years of experience in healthcare recruiting and has proven to have the ability to meet both client and candidate expectations. Prior to joining Aureus Group, Mike worked for a national allied healthcare search firm and won Allied Recruiter in 2012. Mike has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition, health and exercise science from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, NE.


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