Small talk is big talk

Johnny ‘Bob’ Spence
by Johnny ‘Bob’ Spence on September 23, 2018
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Small talk is BIG TALK for top rainmakers

This article will improve your grasp of using small talk to create the platform for the big talk. If you are a rainmaker then this is written to support you. Please forward this to anyone in your firm, practice, sales channel or business development team who would benefit from brand new writing on the subject of lead generation. A 10 minute read regarding how to turn small talk into the big talk more efficiently. It may well be the opposite of what you are currently doing. We thank Cambridge lecturer Katarzyna Lanucha of ‘speakculture’ for inspiring the title.

Time on the ball!

In terms of business development the actual percentage of time in the ‘rainmaker’ position is exceptionally small, relative to the volume of conversations you have. Therefore it is vital you are able to manage your small talk to deliver rainmaking results when an opening exists. I speak regularly to my professional network in America, specifically to Los Angeles based ‘rainmakers’. It was pointed out to me the actual percentage of time where you are really developing openings is exceptionally low prorate to the amount of conversation time. The analogy was to compare the amount of time an NFL Quarterback might have on the ball.

‘An average professional football game lasts 3 hours and 12 minutes, but if you tally up the time when the ball is actually in play, the action amounts to a mere 11 minutes 

(Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff looks relieved to have some of those 11 minutes)!

As a soccer fan I found that figure intriguing and looked at the figures this side of the pond.

(You are lucky to get more than 58% when the ball is in play generally. Last season if you followed Chelsea FC that figure would be the highest rising to 65% but only at Stamford Bridge. The average across the Premier League was 58 minutes in a 1 hour 30 minute game. This is when you are actually watching football being played).

With that ratio in mind it was suggested that the ‘rainmaker’ faces the same odds that our Quarterback faces. So what can you do to improve them?

‘Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation’

Robert H. Schuller

Use your time on the ball

You never get a second chance to make a first impression and at networking events, mixers and conferences the ritual usually is:

  • Firm handshake
  • Direct eye contact
  • The rehearsed business card exchange
  • The honed elevator pitch

Followed by some small talk and then ‘rinse and repeat’ throughout the occasion. This will either generate a level of social-commercial-comfort or it won’t.

Social Commercial Comfort 5next

Here are 5 methods to convert the small talk into big talk.

(Over the last 6 months 5next software has spoken about strategic networking in; Kosice, Wroclaw, Bratislava, Warsaw, Lodz and Prague, thanks to the excellent BritCham organisations. I must preface this by saying I have yet to meet anybody that is remotely boring at any of the excellent events that they run).

Small talk need not be boring

Whenever I hear associates and peers bemoan the ritual of making small talk I comment;

‘Out of interest what effort did YOU make to elevate the conversation’?

At networking events it is easier to use the usual questions and topics that we do with 90% of the people we meet for the first time. Meeting a new connection is a two way inter action but reflect on this:

‘You absolutely have the power to elevate small talk to big talk’.

Small talk can be managed

It does not have to be passive schmoozing. Work with standard questions and without doubt you will receive standard answers. If you want to engage you need to create opportunities to engage. Whoever you meet at a networking opportunity the conversation can only perform within the context of the conversation opportunity. It is a consideration that not everyone enjoys making new introductions and as a business development professional you have to create the conversational platform to help new connections converse within the framework available.

It is important to not lose sight that you should never value new introductions immediately.

How to measure the output of networking engagement early in a commercial relationship?

However, unfortunately, most people are likely to do just that so it is worth the effort on both sides to have conversations that are beyond the bland pleasantries. The classic conversation opener is asking questions where we can easily anticipate the answers to them. This will not support making the above model function.

For instance;

‘So how’s your day’? 

The response;

‘Great. So, how’s yours’?

Not much space for anything more than that.

Small talk management

We now make some suggestions as to rebooting those typical small talk questions into potentially BIG TALK answers where both of you can really shine and engage.

So instead of; ‘How’s your day’…try this to create a different response;

‘What’s the most surprising thing that happened to you recently’? 

Asking this is an opening to engage and enter into a conversation that truly does ebb and flow. Giving the opportunity to give better answers and create a deeper conversation will create the thinking to be insightful even compelling. It leads to a conversation that can really open up where you can both share details about your business lives that you wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to share. You will find that people rarely get the opportunity to talk about ‘ups and downs’ and this is something different.

Another tried and tested opening is; ‘What do you do for a living’?

Try this to create a new type of conversation;

‘So, what gets you up in the morning’?

Small talk is not sound bites

If you work with bland generic questions for all intents and purposes you will generate the only response which is a bland generic answer. This idea is to give the conversation that opening to give someone a positive and encouraging context to bring up their own role and challenges. This is exactly the opposite of talking in sound bites that have been constructed in an easily digestible manner.

Rainmaking is not a 24 hr 60 second pitch

Think about the rather creaky concept of the 60 second pitch at a mixer event. We are networking in a world of ‘sound bites’ and no-one will connect strategically with a professional on the basis of a well rehearsed sound bite. This ‘sound bite’ way of connecting is toxic for those of us searching to maximise the output of interaction. Rather than try to be memorable in 60 seconds or dressing or behaving in a ‘memorable manner’ why not try to be memorable by actively engaging with people. This is a more robust method to become unforgettable and the consequence will be that you move up on their mental list of worthwhile connections.

Another tried and tested comment is: ‘what brings you here’?

Why not use;

Who do you know here’?

This question strategically tells you two things about the person:

  • If they know someone at the event, you will understand their type of connections and this will help you position where they are in terms of what you might represent to them.
  • If they have no connections at the event you can use the opportunity to create a deeper professional connection with them and even introduce them to other people that you might know.

Never underestimate the value of a new connection and I refer back to this excellent Martin Byrne article:

How to evaluate a new connection?

Rainmakers break the ice strategically

We have all heard this as an ice breaker; ‘What line of business are you in’?

Normally you will get the 60 second pitch response so how about this instead;

‘What projects are you currently working on’?

This question is very broad and doesn’t put them on the spot to give the polished elevator pitch which 99 times out of 100 is the response. This approach provides insight into something personal as well as something business-related that they may wish to share. This question allows you to get to know what their priority is at that given time and gives them something more open to talk about.

I often get this one but I know it is not only me that listens to this: Are you originally from [whatever city the event is in]

Why not swap that for;

‘Does your business bring you to [whatever city the event is in]’?

This question will help you jump-start an engaging conversation with ease because it is not a lead into the dreaded elevator speech. This conversation will allow both parties to talk about themselves in relation to their business which is the ultimate goal of savvy people attending a networking event.

Becoming a memorable connection in a room full of ’60 second pitches’ and accompanying sound bites can only be facilitated through conversation. By repute small talk is normally inconsequential and monotonous. But it need not be that way.

When you have the ball, play it!

If you were to see yourself as a play-maker on the ball, you have to make the play. Although conversation is a two-way street, in an introduction you possess the ball and you can decide the play and turn it into an engagement conversation not just small talk.

When you are introduced to somebody for the first time they can technically only respond to the level of conversation that is offered. Not everyone has the ability to articulate something valuable and worthwhile during an on the spot introduction. It really is your job as the rainmaker to create the platform where they can engage in conversation that allows them the space to talk on a higher level.

Coming soon the 5next software white paper entitled:

‘Rainmaking depends on reputation, guard yours with your life’

Johnny ‘Bob’ Spence
Johnny ‘Bob’ Spence
5next Co-Founder. Trainer, networking coach & writer. Educated at L. S. E. & Wits University. ‘$1,000,000 Round Table’ sales qualifier. Author ILM accredited: ‘Executive Programme in Professional & Business Networking’. Rainmaking experience in RSA, UK, France, Finland, Austria, Belgium, Hong Kong, Pakistan, Dubai, Poland, Germany, Slovak Republic & the USA.
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