I’m an introvert. So I always approach the season of holiday parties and office gatherings with a little trepidation. This would probably surprise most of my colleagues and students since I teach communication and enjoy public speaking. However, if given the chance between a social gathering and a quiet night at home, I’d nearly always choose the latter.
However, interacting with strangers or acquaintances at social gatherings seems to be part of the holiday season. So we might as well prepare ourselves to do it well. While it might not be how we’d chose to spend our free time, it can be one of the best ways to open up new opportunities, expand our creative horizons, and form new partnerships.
So I’m heading into the season of small talk armed with these three tips. Come January, I hope to find that I’ve not only survived the social gatherings I needed to attend, but that I did so with less stress and more positive outcomes.
The simplest tip is also the most effective. When entering a social gathering where you don’t know many people, a smile can be all the bridge you need to strike up a friendly conversation. When we see someone else smiling, we automatically (without conscious thought), mirror their facial expression. This activates a positive social exchange that benefits both parties. The exchanged smile literally triggers our brains to feel happy.
And if you are in a networking gathering, research from Penn State University shows that a smile will help you appear more likeable, courteous, and competent. That means simply entering the party with a smile will help others feel more comfortable. It will help replace your negative thoughts with more positive ones. And it will allow you to portray a positive image.
Think about all the things you are worried about when you head into a social gathering. Most likely, you fear standing alone in a corner with no one to talk to. Now think about the fact that there are probably others just like you who have the same fears heading into this gathering. Instead of worrying about your own needs, go to the party aiming to meet the needs of others. Instead of being the one standing alone, be the one who looks for others who are standing alone. Take the role of approaching someone instead of waiting for someone to approach you.
Because I’m someone who likes a goal, I try to approach potentially uncomfortable social gatherings with this goal: see how much I can find out about the people with whom I interact. Asking open-ended questions is one of the quickest ways to strike up a meaningful conversation with someone you don’t know.
This means that you have to branch out from your comfort zone of people you know. I mean, there’s a reason it’s called networking. When you leave your group, you also leave yourself open to be surprised by the people you might meet and the conversations you might have. Author of The Fine Art of Small Talk, Debra Fine, says, “A good networker is looking to foster relationships and build a community, never knowing how that contact can help now or in the future. My motto is ‘every conversation is an opportunity for success.’”
While it’s comforting to stick to the environments and the people we know, ultimately, that doesn’t allow us to create new relationships or opportunities. Ready to join me? Let’s head into the season of social gatherings and small talk smiling, meeting needs, and conversing from a place of curiosity.
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