conversations from small-talk to business

How to move conversations from small-talk to business

Picture it: 

You’re on a zoom call. Your colleague from another office joins, and you’ve never met before.

“Hey Alex, nice to meet you.” “Hi Jessica, likewise.”

Then, there’s an awkward silence. Now what?

Do you ask about the weather? Do you ask how their day’s been? Do you start a conversation but risk side-tracking the meeting? Or do you cut to the chase but risk coming across as rude?

I wrestled with these questions for years. 

It struck me as strange – although small talk was something I did everyday, I’d never been told how to do it properly.

So in today’s email, I thought I’d share some tips I keep in mind when making-small talk in meetings, that might help you too.

Don’t force it.

Many of us feel a need to build rapport because we need the other person to like us. 

Instead, I’d adopt a different mindset: if there’s a genuine connection there, take it. But if not, no big deal. Obsessing over it only makes us seem awkward and inauthentic.

Learn transition phrases.

Don’t be awkward when trying to end small-talk. Use what I call transition phrases to make the switch. Example:

  • “Alright, should we get into it?”
  • “I think everyone’s on the call now, so it’s a good time to start. Should I start with a rough agenda to set some context?”

If in doubt, keep it (somewhat) business related.

Comment on something happening in the other person’s world of work. Avoid politics. Innovation-related topics are always a good idea since that lets you add value with your small talk too, something seniors would appreciate.

For example, talk about new tools or changes in your industry. 

“Have you played around with these AI tools? They’re so impressive, my mind’s spinning with all the ways they’re going change [your industry].”

Side note: If you want to see what you can do with AI, check out Notion AI if you haven’t yet. I’d recommend it — I’ve been using it to improve my writing, automate tedious tasks and brainstorm ideas when I’m stuck.

Keep it short

Everyone is busy. So instead of trying to make perfect small-talk, aim to show you’re a professional by managing time.

Aim for 30-60 seconds of chit-chat, then use a transition phrase.

Skip the small talk if you want to (useful for one-on-ones).

To appear professional in a one-on-one meeting, you can avoid small-talk altogether. After introducing yourself say things like:

“Alright, so we’ve only got 30 minutes to play with today, so let’s get started. What can I help you with?”

“Great to put a name to a face. Anyway, Alex, I’ve got to run in 20 minutes, so let’s get down to it. Where are we with the proposal?”

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