Most introverts don’t like small talk (and some extroverts) The reasons range from “insincere”, “pointless” and “too shy” to “what’s the point”. Before diving into a list of questions you might like to also read ‘Why do introverts hate small talk?’ or ‘How to be better at small talk.’
Questions in small talk.
The purpose of small talk is normally to get to know somebody you don’t know, for a reason. Asking questions that allow people to open up, talk about things they’re interested in, or allow you to talk about things you’re interested in, will create more genuine questions.
- Ask real questions: Trotting out meaningless nonsense from a half remembered list is going to make the conversation even less meaningful than you already fear it is
- Look for exciting stories: What areas of the other persons life could you unlock that are interesting (to them, or you) or that they are proud of? Even better if there are shared, or similar, areas on your life.
- Ask interest inducing questions: Discussing something that one, or both, of you are interested in is going to help you move from small talk to discussion more quickly
- Add some value to conversation: Is there something useful you can add, a perspective, some relevant information, or give something of yourself away. Don’t start “giving advice” or “giving feedback” unless you’re asked.
- Ask questions where you have knowledge / stories too: Shared experiences and areas that open up their (and your) thinking are good.
- Always be honest: If the objective of small talk is to begin to open up a relationship, starting with lies (that you might not even remember) won’t be a good start.
Small talk questions
Having a list of questions you just work through might make the conversation fake. Once you’re “into” the conversation letting your listening skills guide the questions will make it feel less fake. But, if you’re trying to think of questions you that might work….
- What business person inspires you the most, and why? There’s a context, relevant to the event your’e at. The person may be somebody you both know (shared experience), but the rationale helps understand their view. It allows you to add your thoughts and the discussion can be expanded into other areas of business.
- What makes networking work for you? Again, it’s context specific and about understanding somebody else’s view on something you share and asking advice. Adapt it for other settings.
- What’s the best business advice you ever received? You could swap business for some other shared area you’d rather discuss.
- What’s the biggest business tip you’d give? Who doesn’t like to give advice, when asked? Adapt for other types of discussion.
- When’s the last time you failed at something? Bad, as it’s negative, but different! Don’t ask it till the conversation is flowing and say something complimentary about them to start with. But it can move the conversation into a deeper area.
- What made you start your own business? Obviously, it’s only relevant if they have, but you could exchange this for anything else they’ve started, to get an insight into their thinking. This can allow you to add things about yourself.
- How do you use social media in your business? The “how” makes it an open question, social media is a common subject which often opens other debates (I hate social media, I don’t like marketing etc).
- What to do you prefer; Apple or Samsung? (or Apple v PC). We’ve all got smart phones and this is a common difference. It’s bad because it’s a closed question, but you can easily open this discussion from there; it’s good as it has shared experiences, understanding of their thinking and touches on advice.
- What’s the best networking you’ve ever experienced: If you’re at a business event, then asking for other similar business events can work well. It’s about moving from a shared experience (where you are) to understanding something about them (what is good) and getting some advice from them (everybody likes being asked advice). Be prepared to comment on what events you like and why, then you’re into a discussion, not small talk.
- Do you prefer large open networking or small groups? This one breaks the rules, it’s a closed question. However it easily allows follow up questions, leading into discussing experiences you’ve both had. It may also start to give you clues about them (introvert, extrovert?).
- Describe your dream client: You’d need to be at a business event and have started the discussion before asking this, but it’s a great networking question. For more ideas about networking and how this could help, click here.
- Who knows more of your dream clients than anybody else? Another good networking question, making them think, allowing you to offer help (if you can) and allowing them to easily ask the same question.
Don’t use this list as an interrogation checklist, use one or two of the ideas to help you deepen the conversation and learn something about each other.
In this episode of "Activate Your Introvert" I answer the common question - what is an introvert?