Small Talk Ain’t (Small, That Is)
Have some respect for this much-maligned process. In daily life, it can be meaningless — e.g., discussions about the weather with cab drivers. In an initial encounter, it’s life and death. Small talk is not about the topic or words, it’s about the whole experience. She is much more interested in the sound of your voice and how you carry yourself than how witty you are. Don’t try too hard — you will sound desperate. The simple exchange permits both of you to relax a bit while you experience some of each other’s personality.
If you find yourself in a group, ask questions when people seem to show some expertise in something. You are naturally curious. You are always willing to learn. This shows intelligence. People make the mistake of believing that this makes you look stupid or uninformed. Wrong. You are now fifty percent of an interesting conversation. Put on your Jimmy Fallon hat. People will notice. Some of these people are available women. Get the picture?
The best strategy is to break in with an informed question. Of course, you have to know enough to ask. People love to help others out with their opinions. It doesn’t matter too much if they are right or wrong. Ask open-ended questions. The point is to get in the game. You will appear more attractive if you are participating.
The key is to show some interest and appear somewhat informed. Interesting people are always curious about everything. They love to hear about experiences they have not had. What did it feel like to sky-dive? Observe good interviewers and adapt their techniques. One question follows another. It is rare that the interviewee asks a question. If they do, the answer is very brief and the ball is passed right back. Just be careful not to pry. There is nothing small about small talk. Get good at it — very good. You will need it. Have about four or five
little stories or conversations that you can pull up at a moment’s notice. It doesn’t really matter what they are, but here are a few tips: • The topic should be of general interest to just about anyone. • It should not be controversial in any way — you never know. • It’s nice if the story reveals a bit about you, just don’t brag. It would be better if it revealed a positive side of you. • It should be short — one or two minutes or less. • It should invite a response and initiate an exchange. • Keep it light and humorous if possible.
Often guests on talk shows will have these stories ready to go. Of course, they are usually much longer. Most Jerry Seinfeld episodes are loaded with this banter about nothing special. Be ready to switch gears. That’s why you need several. Segue from one to another if the first one is not catching fire. This is a critical skill and it can be practiced with anyone — relatives, friends, co-workers or people you meet in line. Because the topic will not be romantic and very general, you can easily get in the habit of doing this. It will serve you well. The point is to keep the conversation going — very much like a tennis volley. Silence during small talk is not golden — it is certain death. If the conversation is over, your chances are over.
Small talk should last no more than five to fifteen minutes. You will begin to sound like an idiot after a while. She will expect you to engage her on another level by then or end the conversation. Make sure you do. You must be able to end a conversation as well as start one. This is a major mistake many people make. You are at a social and manage to strike up a conversation with someone interesting. You are doing well. Remember — it is a long evening. She will want to mix and so should you. Unless you are getting major signs of interest, you would do well to end the conversation first and move on. If she is interested, she will remember you. You can always come back later. Excuse yourself gracefully. “It was fun talking to you. I’m going to see if I can find my friends. Bye.”
It is awkward to force her to dismiss you. It will also hurt a bit. You will recognize the uncomfortable silence and body language when it’s time to move on. She will gaze around the room, shift from foot to foot, glance at her watch, etc. As soon as you detect this, get outta there. You can turn things around. “Well, Anna, I don’t want to deprive the rest of the party of your company. It was fun talking to you. I hope to catch up with you later.”
Broken Field Running
All great halfbacks are good at this. They zig and zag, picking their options as they go. They don’t know where they’re going to end up except that it’s going to be down the field. It depends on what the defense presents. After small talk you need to find something to talk about that lights her fire. She needs to feel that the two of you are together on this topic and could discuss it for quite a while. Naturally, you have no idea what that might be, so you have to jump around until you can see daylight. Be persistent in trying different topics until something clicks. Be prepared to be blocked. Just roll off it and your physical condition. That’s broken field running.
Conversations consist of statements, questions and answers. Although the percentages are approximate, your side of the conversation should be 70 percent questions, 20 percent answers and 10 percent statements. Blowhards will switch the percentages on questions and statements. All conversations have a life cycle of their own. They start high and plateau for a while then gradually decline as interest wanes. You need to get a sense for this. How long does the typical talk show guest visit last? Fifteen minutes? You need to end the conversation first. You need to end it before it deteriorates. You need to leave her hungry for more. Of course, she may beat you to it for one reason or another — not the least of which is that you are not all that charming to her. You should know that she is probably aware of these principles as well. Be cool. If you sense that you about to be dismissed (watch for the signs), gracefully excuse yourself if possible.
You do not appear needy. You are safe company. You have style and grace. She may want to talk to you again later . Besides, she will notice that you simply moved on to talk to someone else and you are showing those pearly whites and just having the best time — very effective.
If you are consistently talented at being personable and a highlight of any gathering, your reputation will grow. You will be invited to more parties. Your circle of friends and acquaintances will increase. This is the best of all possible worlds. This is where you want to be. It is surprisingly easy.
Someone needs to speak first. Equal rights aside, society generally expects the man to take that role. If she speaks first — congratulations. It is rare but not impossible. By the way, always return an invitation to chat, no matter what the woman looks like. It is a nice thing to do, improves your confidence and conditions you to automatically go into conversational mode at every opportunity.
If a woman speaks first by asking the time or directions or by making a general comment, consider this an advance. It could be a rare, golden chance at romance. You may be wrong but it is worth exploring if you think you are interested. It takes a lot for a woman to do this, so either she is interested in you or really needs to know the time and you just happen to have a watch. If she appeals to you, follow up immediately with a question. This will take some creativity because you will be caught off guard. Do your best to initiate a conversation and keep it going. In the process, you can watch her body language and determine if there is a real opportunity here. If you wimp out, she will drop the issue immediately and the opportunity will have passed. Pity.
What do you say? Anything. It really doesn’t matter too much. It could be centered around what you are mutually experiencing. The line is long, you don’t know where the books about physical fitness are located, she has Virginia plates on her car, whatever. Just say something. You will get an immediate indication as to her receptiveness. She will reply or mumble or ignore you. At least you will know. If she seems completely uninterested, simply smile and say “have a great day.” No harm done. You dropped a line in the water, got a nibble and the fish swam away. So what? It’s good practice. It toughens your resolve and makes it easier the next time.
With some luck, she may reply with a question of her own or an acknowledging smile. That is enough of a signal to continue. Center the next comment or question around her. She has a chance to participate easily and perhaps develop the conversation herself. Just keep chatting and smiling.
After two or three exchanges — introduce yourself. This is key. She needs a comfort level. Once she knows your name, she can drop her guard a bit. You are no longer a total stranger, you are a guy she met at the deli. That’s progress.
Steer the conversation to value matching when you can. Since you have your list memorized, start asking about her ambitions, dreams and values. Don’t be too intrusive. It is just as important to make her feel like you are an old friend she can trust as it is to gather information. You must be sincere and truthful at all times. You want to entice her with your potential as a romantic partner. Do this by revealing what you like and then observing her reaction. Make her curious to find out more. The price for that information is spending more time with you. If you are in a setting where she is having a drink, look for an opportunity to buy her another. Don’t be pushy about it. Make her feel like your guest. When you sense that she is very comfortable with you, and not before, ask if she would like to accompany you to a nice café for coffee and more chatting. Identify the place and say how nice it is. Say that she could follow you in her car and head home from there since it is very close. Of course, you have done your research and know a few appropriate places in the area, right?
If she hesitates because she is not quite comfortable, lead her to believe that she could be missing out on something very nice — a possible date with you! Since a great relationship is exactly what she’s looking for, it could turn the tide. Keep things light, not threatening. It takes a certain amount of self-confidence, but a conversation like this might be appropriate.
Her: “I don’t think I want to get that involved right now, thanks.” You: “You know, Anna , opportunity is a funny thing. I see the possibility of us having the best time getting to know each other better. I see us out at a nice restaurant laughing and enjoying a great meal. I’m the kind of guy who can’t let a good thing pass me by. Don’t you think it’s exciting to do something a bit adventurous? How about investing an hour and finding out?”
By the way, one of the biggest mistakes we make is to let our eyes wander around the room while we are talking to a woman. They hate that. If you think about it, so would you. Summon all your concentration and maintain eye contact while you follow every word she says. Study the section on active listening very carefully. Play mind games with yourself if you must. Pretend she holds the secrets of the universe and will be revealing them soon. She can tell you who will win next year’s Superbowl. That should help. By the way, if it’s really this difficult for you to listen to her now, maybe this isn’t the gal for you. If you end up in a relationship with her, you will be listening a lot. It should be pleasant.