Networking 101: Small Talk Your Way to Great Connections

Networking and making connections is essential to having a success business. Being able to have positive social interactions can go along way towards establishing rapport will potential customers and business partners. However, small talk can feel superficial and forced if you don’t view it as a way to build trust. Think of it as taking the first step, a gateway to more meaningful, deeper conversation. People love to talk, especially about themselves, here’s how to get them to open up.

One-on-One Small Talk

Before you engage in conversation it’s important to see yourself as the “host” – stay active. Be the one that introduces others and fills in awkward gaps. Make sure you come across as approachable, but take the initiative to approach others. If you see someone by his or herself, make eye contact, approach and greet.

The ARE Method_KR_9225-3

Now that you have introduced yourself. It’s time to get the conversation flowing. Communications expert Dr. Carol Fleming recommends the ARE Method to kick-off small-talk with confidence.
-Anchor: this is the perfect time to point out something about your shared reality, but not meaningful. The aim of the anchor is to lay a great foundation that politely segways into meaningful conversation. Here are some examples:

  • “Pretty good turnout tonight!”
  • “This weather is just perfect.”
  • “Dr. Smith’s speech was so insightful, wasn’t it?”

-Reveal: now that both of you are comfortable, open up a little on your perspective. Disclose something about yourself that is related to the anchor you just mentioned. Here are some examples of personal thoughts and prospects:

  • “I remember being a little disappointed in the size of the crowd on the first night of the conference.”
  • “I’m hoping these temperatures hold steady through the weekend; I’d like to go on a hike.”
  • “I’m always inspired by speakers that are able to _________.”
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-Encourage: the final step is to ask questions. Invite them into the conversation by asking a question related to what you just revealed. Don’t make the question too complicated, they should be able to answer in one or two words:

  • “You been to this event before?”
  • “Do you plan on taking advantage of this great weather this weekend?”
  • “Have you heard _______ speak before?”

The remainder of the conversation should be a balance between R and E. Lean more to asking questions but don’t forget to add interesting comments.

Group Setting Small Talk


If you find yourself at a networking dinner or sitting at a table with unfamiliar people here are some safe topics to lead with that everyone at the table can contribute to. Remember the acronym FORM:

  • Family – tell a little about your family and ask about theirs “Tell me about your family…” or “Where did you grow up?”
  • Occupation – talk about what you do for a living and ask “How do you spend your time?” or “How did you choose your job/profession?”
  • Recreation – share what you do for fun and discover some things you might have in common or would like to try someday “What do you like to do in your spare time?” or “What’s your favorite sport?”
  • Motivation– share what’s important to you and discover what inspires the other people in the group by asking “If time and money were no object, what would you do?” or “If you were given 5 minutes to talk with the President, what would you say?”
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