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Posted 10/30/23

Skip the small talk. Why big talk is (so much) better for your networking.

Ah, networking. What other activity gets you out of bed pre-dawn for a sad little croissant in a hotel basement? Or slouching out of the office for a too-warm glass of white and a handful of crisps when you’d rather be doing…well, just about anything else? 

Neither of these conditions are particularly conducive to great chat. But great chat is, I believe, the key to great networking. And great networking is – as we all know – important for lots of reasons: to meet interesting people, create new connections, practise core skills, perhaps even land a new opportunity. If you’re going to do it, you might as well do it joyfully, right? Right. So let’s talk about the talk. 

I don’t want to come down too hard on small talk. It has its uses. It can help you build a bit of rapport when rapport is required (at the bar or the buffet table, maybe in the queue for the loo) but I’m yet to see it achieve anything of real value in networking. If anything, it can make things feel more awkward. And you and your croissant don’t need that, darling. 

I have a solution, of sorts, and I’m calling it ‘big talk’. Big talk is whole-hearted. It’s authentic. It’s about the quality of the conversation and the connection rather than the outcome, although I’ll betcha get a better outcome anyway. And if you don’t, well, a bit of IRL, actual human contact is worth its weight in gold these days.  Here are my tips for talking big.

1. ASK BETTER QUESTIONS

‘How are you?’, ‘What do you do?’, ‘Where do you work?’, and – goddammit – ‘How was your travel?’: These feel like warm-up questions yet, weirdly, there’s no real warmth in them. Go BIGGER: ‘What’s your intent here?’, ‘What’s one thing you’re hoping to learn?’, ‘What connections are you looking to make?’ and – the shiniest of all – ‘How can I help you?.

2. BE A BETTER LISTENER

We used to be great listeners (think of all that time we spent listening to bedtime stories). But somewhere in the digital age, a lot of us lost the knack. Well, it’s time to re-learn. The great thing about asking better questions is that you tend to get better answers, which makes listening easier. Remember your basics: phone on DND, reflect back what you’ve heard, ask the person to tell you more and respond wholeheartedly.

3. MANAGE SOCIAL MEDIA USE…

Social media can be a major source of FOMO and can lead us to ‘comparititus’ (one of the easiest ways to slide into gloom). To cultivate JOMO, try to manage your social media use. It’s worth doing a review of what type of content you’re consuming and checking if it’s contributing to your joy, or if it’s making you feel gloomy. Having a good clear-out and disconnecting from accounts that do not bring you joy can be very cathartic! If you find it’s causing you some serious FOMO, it can also be worth taking a break from social media altogether, or setting limits on the amount of time you spend scrolling.

4. BE A BETTER SHARER

Authenticity is…about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.

Brene Brown

Preach, Brene. I get it, showing up and being real is advanced level networking. Hear me out, though. I’m not advocating for unleashing your life story on the person you just met; I’m (gently) suggesting that you choose to share just a squeak more than you usually would, and see what happens. A great way to start is to share why you’re at the event and what you’re really looking fo

THE THREE Es OF BIG TALK

At the end of each blog post, I’m going to share three simple actions, just like in my book, WorkJoy: A Toolkit for a Better Working Life.

Engagement
The intention of big talk is connection, so don’t forget about connecting the people you meet networking with other people in your network. 

Experimentation
If you haven’t arrived at the event with a purpose, make it to experiment with sharing a bit more than you typically would, and seeing what happens. 

Energy
Instead of focusing on an outcome, like getting people on a mailing list, try focusing on the skills and qualities you need in your network. 

Pssst. I offer a talk called ‘Supercharge your Squad’. It helps participants to go beyond networking and create reciprocal relationships that support their life, as well as their career. If that sounds interesting and you’d like to have a chat about bringing it to your workplace, email me on beth@bethstallwood.com.

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