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12 tips on how to make small talk

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Author: Dr. Teresa Evans and Charlotte Anthony | Category: Career Development | December 20, 2017

To see the powerpoint version of Dr. Teresa Evans’ talk on “Creating an Impact: Networking and Small Talk 101 For Scientists,” click here


Reduce anxiety

Before going to a networking event, find out who’s going to be there. Is there going to be food? Are there speakers? Can you google or linkedin any of the attendees before going there? This will help you be more prepared walking in to the event.

Be purposeful

Change the way that you think about the event, if you think “this is miserable I don’t want to go, I’ll be stuck in a corner,” change your mindset and say “I’ll go for an hour, say hi to three people and then go home.” If you set a goal then you will be more impact. Don’t well on the negative thoughts or else it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Be curious

Listen to the person you are talking to and provide a thoughtful response. Approach the conversation with genuine interest.

Prepare your intro

It takes 1/10th of a second to judge someone and make a first impression. However, the confidence in that impression increases with time. So even though you are being judged from the beginning, you can change the way they judged you.

Ask questions

Asking questions allows the person to take the center stage. Ask questions like “what are you most proud of? What have been some of your biggest challenges?”

Share information

Be sure to also share something about yourself. If you say “yes or no” to everything, this will make it more challenging to have a conversation. Question: "How are you?" Short response: ”I’m Fine." Better response: "Good, thanks. I'm getting ready for my dissertation proposal. It will be my first time proposing my dissertation work on the role of inflammation in cancer, and I look forward to my next steps."

Deepen the conversation

Start with open ended questions. Where are you from---what is your hometown like---how is it different from here?

Consider nonverbal cues

59 percent of the conversation is facial expressions and body language while 41 percent is tone and language.

Be Kind

Be kind to yourself and others. You don’t know what battle they are fighting today.

Make proper introductions for other people

The hallmark of a skilled small talker is introducing others with ease. Be sincere and make it personal.

Leave gracefully

“I enjoyed talking with you about your research. I hope to talk again soon about how we might collaborate.”

Have a buddy

If you need to escape, have a plan whether it’s texting each other to let your buddy know to come get you.

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