As a professional business person, you might often find yourself in situations that require making small talk with colleagues, clients and new contacts. Strong conversation skills and savvy business sense allow you to present yourself as a knowledgeable and outgoing professional. Use these skills to your advantage as you build your business network.
Stay abreast of trending local, national and international news stories. This gives you the ability to understand and contribute to a wide range of conversational topics that might arise in a business venue. Stay current not only on issues that affect your business, but those that affect others as well, particularly potential clients and customers. Be knowledgeable about events you attend, particularly if they are membership get-togethers that might lead to additional new introductions.
Pay particular attention to local business happenings, and keep track of what’s going on in your industry by subscribing to and reading trade publications. Join industry associations, and subscribe to their newsletters to learn what's happening with members. Feel free to ask questions about others’ line of work when making small talk, and share information about yours as well.
Whether the economy is strong or weak, it affects businesses in different ways. Professionals often like to discuss the state of their industry and how economic conditions affect their companies. This line of conversation can be beneficial, especially if it presents a business opportunity. If you're a banker, for instance, and conversation comes around to the scarcity of small business loans, you have an automatic "in."
Topics to Avoid
Avoid topics that can be contentious. In particular, stay away from discussing religion or politics, and use caution when talking about business legislation or money issues. If you find yourself caught in an uncomfortable conversation or are asked for your opinion on a matter you don’t wish to discuss, be non-committal in your response. Say something like, “That’s got a lot of people talking,” or “There are a lot of different sides to that, aren’t there?”
People love to talk about themselves, so ask questions and listen intently to establish yourself as a good conversationalist. Choose your words wisely and don’t give away too much business information, especially to competitors. Avoid dominating the conversation or making every discussion a sales pitch for your business. If you don’t know the person you’re talking to, ask for a business card for future reference. This will help you build and expand your professional network.
Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.