As a self-professed introvert, my small talk topics instantly divert to the weather. I'm not the best at chatting about inconsequential tidbits at parties — I'd much rather get into the-meaning-of life conversations — so I'm always looking for odd but brilliant small talk hacks to make a better impression on people and not get stuck in those awkward silences.
There are countless Ted Talks and self-improvement guides on how to be the life of the party or be more outgoing, but I've found some quirky tips that could help any introvert navigate the deep void of the social stratosphere. What do I mean by that? A lot of times when I know I'm going to a big event or into a group interview, I do prep and research. I know it sounds a bit nerdy, but this ritual of sorts gets me in the mental attitude to flex my social muscles and talk about fashion, sports, what I ate today, and topics that reach far beyond Hurricane Irma or how San Francisco is always foggy.
A lot of what I focus on is body language and looking receptive to what others are saying. I play to my strengths of being a natural born listener, and I'm able to listen more and talk less. For any introvert, this will be your diamond in the rough. Here are nine odd but brilliant small talk hacks I use that anyone can master to make a good impression.
1. Do the Starfish
Inc.com calls this a power pose and I agree. Anytime I have to hop on a video call or walk into a group interview — or even know I'm going to an event like an art gallery opening — I sneak into the bathroom and hold this pose for at least 30 seconds at a time. Amy Cudy, who developed this technique, says that power posing can make you feel more confident. By tapping in to your your confidence, you have the advantage of being able to steer the conversation into your comfort zone, which will help you make a great impression without seeming overbearing.
2. Use 'Open' Body Language
According to a study conducted in the 1950s by Albert Mehrabian, more than 55 percent of the English language is nonverbal, reported the New York Times. Because of that, human beings infer a lot from the way the people they are talking to stand, react to facial expressions, or place their arms. Open body language communicates interest and a receptiveness to listening, noted the Huffington Post. What does that mean exactly? Head nods, uncrossed arms, a straight posture, and eye contact, for examples, all give clues about how you're feeling. Another helpful tip is to do something called mirroring. This is where you, in a low-key way, mimic something about the person or people you're talking to, from their smile, to the way they lean in. Doing this expresses an interest. You're subtly communicating a good impression by noticing their movements and following their lead.
3. Create A Question List
If I'm ever particularly nervous about going to a social event, I come up with three to five questions or topics I know I could talk about for at least 10 minutes. Most of them inherently end up being about food (because... well, everyone eats), but by reading the news or knowing what happened at the last game, I'm not drowning in a sea of silence looking for a topic to talk about. Here are some great conversation starters on Pinterest.
4. Plan An Escape Route
I know what you're thinking. This is the exact opposite of a good impression. But, consider a time when you had the longest, most drawn out conversation about something. How did you think of that person afterward? Chances are it felt like time was slowly ticking by, and you didn't have a way out. Plan this ahead, so you're able to leave a positive impression while making the person you're talking to feel like you respect their time. Say you're going to go get a drink, head to the bathroom, or say you have to catch up with someone who just walked in. Whatever you're most comfortable with, this tactic will save you.
5. A Better Way Than Imagining Them in Underwear
Face it, imagining someone in their underwear is probably more traumatic than helpful in making an impression. Instead, imagine there's a sign around their neck that says, "I'm just like you." Understanding that the person you're speaking to is likely just as nervous and eager on making a first impression should make you feel more at ease.
6. Yes, And...
In improv, there's this game called "Yes and." A person starts with an action, and the other people in the group take it and add something to it. By doing a version of this, you're promoting positivity and getting them to tell a story, which will help give you a break in steering the conversation. It also prevents conversations in small talk that can be answered in two sentences. Check out this great "Yes and" YouTube tutorial.
7. Understand The Halo Effect
According to Jonathan Wai, a PhD and psychologist writing for Business Insider, the halo effect is liking everything about someone you've just met based on one trait or experience. You can harness this by presenting your agreeableness and best features right off the bat to elicit a positive emotion.
8. Dress The Part
They way you dress has a significant impact on your self confidence. The Daily Mail reported on the findings of Professor Karen Pine from the University of Hertfordshire, who researched how a person's attire affects confidence. She found that students were more assured when wearing a Superman t-shirt, and women performed worse in a math test when wearing a swimsuit. Dress the part, and you'll feel the part.
9. You Are Kind, You Are Smart, You Are Confident
Along the lines of the starfish power posing, find a mantra or something that you can recite mentally right before diving into a conversation. It will be your pump-up song, and you can use it anytime you need to feel a mental boost.
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