Financial Fix

Master the art of small talk with a few simple rules

Sponsored by Vantage West.

How many times have you attended a networking event only to find yourself talking exclusively to people you already know? Many find it difficult to approach someone they have never met and introduce themselves. Knowing a few simple social rules will help liberate your gregarious side rather than restrain it. Here are some tips that may help you overcome your hesitation to break the ice and start building a relationship.

Sincerity and kindness are more important than being witty or intellectual when meeting someone for the first time. You are not the only one feeling anxious about making new contacts. It is safe to assume most people have similar feelings. Therefore, look on the bright side; you already have something in common! In fact, honesty can prove to be an effective icebreaker.  For instance, you can start by saying, “Hello, my name is John Q. Public, and I promised myself I would do some actual networking tonight instead of talking to people I already know.” Simple and direct, the other person now knows your name and the reason you are talking to them.

Do not assume anything about people before you meet them. Yes, the previous tip said it is safe to assume most people share your anxious feelings about meeting new people. However, that is the only thing you may assume. Do not assume the distinguished-looking gentleman in the well-tailored suit is aloof, or that the woman wearing sneakers with her dress is a junior staff member and not an executive.  Assumptions create communication challenges because they set up expectations based on stereotypes. If you find yourself making an assumption about someone, stop. Saying the wrong thing based on nothing factual could prove embarrassing to you both. Try to keep an open mind and treat everyone with respect. 

Be an active listener. Now that you have introduced yourself, relax and give the other person your full attention. Let them know you are hearing what they are saying by asking follow-up questions, or by clarifying something you may not have understood. This allows them to open up a bit more about themselves so you can get to know them better. Whether due to nervousness or bad habit, too many people tend to talk about themselves instead of engaging in the moment to listen to the other person. Listening is essential to establishing a relationship as opposed to merely making an acquaintance. 

Avoid your favorite subject. Initially, this may sound counterintuitive because it is easy to talk about what fascinates you more than anything else. You could go on about it for hours, and that poses a problem. The goal is to have an enjoyable conversation where both of you contribute in equal measure. Topics that are particularly helpful include restaurants, books, movies, television shows, and local events. When the other person recommends one of these, it opens the door to more interaction at a later time. This is the time to exchange business cards so you may note the recommendation. Tell them you are interested in checking it out and you will let them know your thoughts. Send an email thanking them for the recommendation along with a couple of specifics stating what was particularly good about the experience. 

Topics to avoid are personal financial questions, politics, religion, sex, death, and anything regarding age and appearance. If the other person mentions one of these issues, do your best to redirect the conversation. Should that fail, take it as a cue to politely excuse yourself to freshen your drink.

End the conversation by thanking them for making the networking process easy and fun. Make sure you deliver on anything you offered during the discussion. If necessary, find a quiet spot in the room where you can write additional notes before you forget them.

Hopefully, these tips will help you welcome your next meet and greet with confidence and enthusiasm. Mastering the art of small talk can be done by everyone. Remember, from small beginnings come great things.  

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Rene Almazan is a senior vice president for Vantage West Credit Union, a $1.7-billion financial institution in Arizona, which serves a growing membership of more than 148,000 via branches across Arizona and online channels, as well. Vantage West offers consumer and business banking services, and is federally insured by NCUA.