Most employees dread the thought of having to make small talk with top executives. Small talk is conversation for its own sake – a bonding activity intended mostly to make people feel more comfortable with you. The ability to make small talk is a social skill that helps in building relationships. But what about making small talk with your top boss or CEO or a key client?
Don’t dread the thought of making a verbal blunder with the chief – you can use this as a positive opportunity to impress the other person. So what can you discuss with important people at a scheduled encounter? The tips below apply to scheduled contacts as well as to unexpected encounters.
The key is to prepare discussion points ahead
Don’t just talk about the weather or the football results. Find out the issues top executives are engaged in. These should be generally known. You can ask, for example, “What’s the latest on… [project]? I heard that …[whatever the news is about progress].”
Also, you can decide on a short key message to say about your recent work achievements and their relevance, or even your career. For instance, you could say something like, “You might like to know that last week we succeeded in…” Or you could turn the conversation back to yourself: “The company paid for me to attend… recently, and I learnt some really useful ideas for…” The preparation for these chats is good practice for informal breaks at other times such as during team meetings and cross-functional committee meetings, etc. You need to use your own judgment as to which topics are suitable for the occasion.
If the activity is strictly social, you can prepare by learning ahead about the personal interests of senior managers and top clients, such as their hobbies, sports they support, any community activities or perhaps their family involvements that are reasonably well known.
Then go ahead and practice! You can talk to yourself while driving or walking to work, and you can even record yourself to hear how you sound. Mostly we tend to be super-critical when we hear ourselves, so don’t be too hard on yourself! If you do practice such small talk, you will find you are not only more relaxed around VIPs, but you can actively enhance your career prospects.