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Making Sensational Small Talk this Holiday Season

By Bea Lanzi

Merry Christmas

and

Happy New Year!

There’s nothing better than a holiday party to promote some good cheer. It’s nice to get dressed up and mingle among bright, twinkling lights and colorful decorations. There’s always tasty holiday treats and maybe even an exotic cocktail to try. And, let’s not forget about the merry, holiday music.

Even those professional holiday parties that we have to attend seem to take on a festive, fun energy. It’s nice to connect with people we work with throughout the year in a casual setting. We can chat with current colleagues, catch up with former co-workers, check in with clients and maybe even meet new industry contacts.

Yes, networking and holiday cheer make a pretty good combination. Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that professional decorum is essential. We should follow common sense holiday party etiquette. In other words, don’t have too many of those exotic holiday cocktails. And, keep in mind that when meeting someone new, first impressions can be formed in as little as 45 seconds to 3 minutes.

Think about that- we can set the tone – either positive or negative- for the conversation and future interactions, in a few short minutes. That’s why it’s important to start our conversations well. This is where small talk comes in. Easy – right? Yeah- probably not. Small talk can be challenging. And, when we’re holding some holiday treats in one hand and a cocktail in the other, the challenge is just greater.

We all want to appear cool, calm, smart and pulled together. So, it can be a lot of pressure thinking of the right things to say. What should we highlight? What might impress? It can be really stressful. People who work with me would probably tell you I talk a lot. Yet, in this instance, I find myself at a loss for words.

Luckily, small talk is a learned skill. And, there are plenty of tips to help us. Experts suggest we should have a short elevator pitch to sum up our career and who we are. I follow this advice, but it never feels really comfortable to me. It’s inward facing communication and it makes me think about myself when it’s important to focus on the other person. So, as soon as I can, I turn the communication outward by asking questions. This makes me feel at ease right away. And, it gives me an opportunity to eat those holiday treats while I listen.

I try to keep questions open ended to allow for actual discussion. It’s not a great dialogue if the other person is simply saying yes or no. Questions that answer who, what, why, where, when, how and how much usually get the other person talking.

I like to ask questions about the person’s occupation, what they’re working on, their holiday plans, even questions about the food being served can be great small talk topics. I’ve found that it’s not so much the actual question that matters as much as simply asking something.

Questions can help to create a real dialogue. They show the other person that we are interested in what they have to say. They help to establish common ground and a positive rapport. And, before we even realize it, we’re engaged in a fun, festive conversation that matches the occasion and we’re making sensational small talk like a real pro.