Small talk made easy

Not every conversation has to be serious or difficult. I know many translators (myself included, half the time) are introverted. This can make necessary business tasks like phone calls, interviews, and networking feel daunting. It doesn’t have to be!

Here are some of the common links I’ve noticed between first-time conversations I’ve had in various settings—conversations that went well. They made me feel connected. They worked.

  • Smile when you say hello, and smile again when you say, “Nice to meet you, X!” Be sure to use their name.

  • Ask questions, and pay attention to what questions your conversation partner asks of you. Often, people will ask you what they really want to answer themselves.

  • Keep the general questions (Where are you from, what languages do you speak, etc.) to a minimum of about 3, or else the conversation risks getting quite dull. You probably know this from experience, but maybe haven’t thought about it as a rule. If you have nothing else to ask beyond these basics, it’s OK to excuse yourself from the conversation quickly (and politely).

  • To get beyond the basics, take a cue from the questions you heard asked of you, and ask your partner to tell you more about something they seem to be an expert on. If you haven’t heard anything of interest yet, try asking something specific, like “So, what do you specialize in?” Then, repeat a statement they make in their answer and ask them to say more about it. Easy-peasy!

  • Look at the person’s ear or thereabouts while you’re listening. Staring into someone’s eyes can make them uncomfortable, but staring down or looking over their shoulder the whole time can make them feel unappreciated as a speaker.
  • If you are often uncomfortable with eye contact (or near-eye contact), I encourage you to practice a bit before your conference/networking event, when you check out at the grocery store or order food at a restaurant, for instance. It gets easier—really!
  • To excuse yourself without feeling rude or abrupt, start by complimenting the person’s ideas somehow (“You explain that so well!” “I had no idea how interesting X could be!” etc.). Then tack on a quick thank you and your goodbye. Be sure to smile (whether you feel smiley or not).
  • If you are having trouble extracting yourself from an eager talker, this is the time to extend your hand for a firm shake. I can’t think of many instances where this didn’t get the point across while also distracting the talker from their thoughts, because it redirects their attention.

For more tips, I highly recommend this article. And for practice in the Sacramento, CA area, stop by the Roseville Galleria on the 2nd Wednesday of the month for my regular translator coffee chat! (More details available here.)

What do you do to make your conversation partner feel comfortable? How do you engage someone in a quick chat?


2 thoughts on “Small talk made easy

  1. Pingback: Weekly favorites (Dec 6-12) | Adventures in Freelance Translation

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