The Big Deal About Small Talk

Shortly after landing on the other side of a college diploma, I realized the vital ingredient in success had little to do with a piece of paper and much more to do with how you could hold your pop culture stats on your tongue and liquor in your belly at the same time. They don’t teach you that in school.

These days, I often find myself at conferences with high-powered execs in business suits, with their slicked back hair and hearty laughs, holding martinis and conversing with each other about the latest (insert popular sports team name here) game or even something nerdier yet still detail-oriented. I’ve come to the conclusion that my biggest obstacle in the way of success is my inability to engage in what they call “small talk.” And yes, it’s a big deal. A really big deal.

If I’m spending time with someone who enjoys talking, I fall back on what I learned as a journalist — look interested and keep asking questions. But when it comes to talking to people — whether it be professionals or in a social setting, I can’t think of anything to say. I go through the same boring questionnaire about where they grew up, where I grew up, and yes, central New Jersey does exist, and no, everyone does not look like Snookie and The Situation there. Then I run into a wall.

In social situations, especially if alcohol is involved, I often find myself cracking a joke or twenty at the expense of myself. People seem to like my self deprecating humor, I like to think of it as charming, but it has no place in a professional networking environment. So — I have nothing to say, only questions to ask. I don’t think I’m all that interesting.

Being in marketing means making those connections by engaging in small talk, by gaining trust, respect. And if there were a college degree in networking I would never have passed. I am such an introvert, with social anxiety to boot. This is why I wonder if I can ever succeed in this industry — even if I were able to get on top of things the whole introversion piece of the puzzle will hold me back. I’m forever awkward. And even when the best connections are available to be made, I manage to misplace them in the unspoken chaos of insecurity.

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3 thoughts on “The Big Deal About Small Talk”

  1. I can relate to you on this. I struggle with small talk to. That is one of my biggest flaws in large social environments. I can do the sports talk because I love sports, but outside of that I struggle.

  2. I can relate to this too! I went to my first conference recently, and for the most part I struggled after we got through “where are you from, and what do you work on”. I guess I also found a few guys to talk college basketball with, but small talk is definitely something I could use some work on!

    I also don’t feel that I’m very good at asking questions-beyond those first few-so I end up in some awkward silences. I think asking good questions is great, because people generally like to feel that you’re interested in them. So hey, at least that’s something! 🙂
    Insomniac Lab Rat recently posted..Financial Discussions

  3. I so relate. I'm really quite shy, although people say they don't think I am. But it's all a front. I really am terribly uncomfortable in large social settings with acquaintances and co-workers (as opposed to friends, where I'm fine just being me). Like you I ask a lot of questions and then .. sort of lapse into a state of semi-self-mockery.

    I wish I were better at "working" a room. I think it's a skill that can be learned, but I just have a hard time knowing where to start!

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