4 tips to enliven your small talk

Leaders learn how to relate to people in diverse settings. From formal boardrooms to friendly chats with employees, they engage others well and listen attentively.

Use these four techniques to sharpen your interpersonal communication skills:

  1. Prepare to mingle. To excel at small talk, create your own mental “cheat sheet” to identify topics to cover. For example, FORD (family, occupation, recreation, dreams) helps you remember four of the safest subjects to ask about in almost any conversation.
  2. Tap silence. Leaders speak with authority. They will pause and ponder what they’re about to say, especially when they’re responding to a thoughtful question. Treat pockets of silence as your ally. If you’re searching for the right word, do so quietly. People will listen more closely if you wait an extra few seconds to begin speaking.
  3. Share instructive anecdotes. Lecturing people rarely engages them. But stories, especially personal experiences, tend to stick with your listeners. Tell a story about how you learned what you’re about to teach an employee. Keep it short and simple. Describe a specific time, place and activity to paint a vivid picture of what happened and when.
  4. Retain what you read. The more you read, the smarter you get. Note any words or phrases that appeal to you when you’re enjoying a book or browsing an article.

As you read, consider how you can borrow pleasing written rhythms or vivid phrases to enhance how you speak. Expanding your vocabulary prevents you from relying on clichés.

— Adapted from “How Should a CEO Speak?,” John Mattone, www.johnmattone.com.