Oh, The Terror! Don't Let Fear of Small Talk Destroy Your Networking

BY Jessica Helinski
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Not all salespeople are extroverts. Yes, they may be able to present to a roomful of people or lead a full webinar. But, the thought of making small talk at an event could be terrifying. Can you relate? So can Alison Davis, founder and CEO, Davis & Company. In an article for Inc., she discusses her struggle being comfortable with in-​person networking. She also explains how, thanks to advice from Mark Wiskup, author of The It Factor: Be the One People Like, Listen to and Remember, she’s been able to overcome that discomfort.

A Necessary Step

One of the biggest takeaways she took from Wiksup is to not look at networking as just something social, but rather a vital part of your profession. “Networking is not unstructured social time; it's work,” she explains. “But if you look at small talk as having a purpose–to make meaningful connections–then the effort is worthwhile.” By first shifting how you view network, you’ll find that how you feel about it will shift as well. Just start focusing on networking as just one of the necessary steps of the sales process. 

She also learned that networking involves more than just asking questions; the questions need to be insightful and spark conversation. Specifically, she learned from Wiksup that there is a specific formula to asking questions. The formula involves asking a question about one of three topics, then ask four specific questions about that topic in a prescribed order. 

Pick A Topic And Ask Questions

First, choose a topic (and no, it shouldn’t be the weather or sports). Instead, select from one of three universal topics: profession, hometown or hobbies/​activities. Then, use this specific questing method: 

  • First, ask a broad, general question about the topic. 
  • Next, follow up with a more focused question. 
  • With your third question, continue to drill down on the topic.
  • Offer some information of your own, based on what the person has told you, then end with a quick fourth question.

For specifics on why this method works, as well as examples of how a conversation should go, check out Davis’s article. Once you implement this strategy, you may find yourself not only losing your dread of these conversation, but actually valuing them and the insights they produce (just like she did!).