Personally I find business social occasions a chore, particularly networking. If you’re attending these type of events when English is your second language then my heart goes out to you! Unless you’re an extrovert these type of events are difficult for everyone but that’s a good thing, we’re all in the same boat. However these are not the only occasions when small talk for business English will be useful.
The Coffee Break
You’re at a business event, perhaps a seminar or a training course. You’ve made it through the round table introductions, you’re past the first session but now it’s break time. Oh no! Can you grab a coffee and pastry and hide behind your phone? Difficult to hold a coffee, a pastry and a phone though. So, it’s a dilemma.
Waiting for something to begin
The before an event wait. Kicking your heels before the event begins with all the other attendees doing the same. Perhaps catching someone’s eye – do you make conversation or quickly check your phone? Maybe you can hide in the toilet for 10 minutes?
Perhaps a social event or a networking event. Because there’s no place to hide, you have to speak to people. In that case what are you going to talk about, the traffic again? That feeling in the pit of your stomach, you have to speak to someone, but what about?
So, how is it possible to enjoy small talk and for everyone to benefit from it?
What if small talk had a purpose? Maybe not a defined purpose like a specific reason, or a question and answer session but how about if you think of it as relationship building. Learning about the other person and helping them get to know you or your culture. Soon differences and similarities will crop up then these become points of conversation. Small talk extends, enriches into something deeper, something less forced which is a benefit for you and your working relationship.
Small Talk for Business English Tips
It’s handy to have some small talk ideas ready to pull out of your hat. Subjects which will encourage a light conversation without being too controversial. Indeed, controversial is also a route you could go down however this is a risky approach for small talk with people you don’t know well. Bearing that in mind, what sort of subjects are a good topic for small talk?
You could talk about:
- The venue
- Your family
- Restaurants or types of food
- Holidays and so on…
Try and keep your questions open-ended (this is a question which cannot be answered with a simple yes or no) as this will encourage dialogue and interaction.
There are questions you can ask designed to encourage a conversation. Indeed you may be asked these questions yourself or you may need to take the lead and use them. These questions are open ended, non-controversial and therefore designed to help get a conversation going. Some business related examples:
- “What’s the most exciting thing about your product?”
- “What’s the most exciting thing about your industry?”
- “I’m curious to know your story.”
- “What’s your industry like right now?”
- “Do you need any introductions?”
If the person you are speaking to doesn’t want to answer a question you’ve asked then don’t worry. After that you could try a different question or perhaps encourage them to ask you something or even change the subject.
What is active listening? Simply it means that you fully concentrate, understand and respond to what is being said. Learn more about active listening.
Small talk for business English is a great opportunity for you to develop beneficial business relationships. As a result these relationships will make your working life easier over time.
Ending a Conversation
Sometimes you’ll want or need to move on and speak to someone else. How can you do this without causing offence or feeling trapped. In the same way there are ways to begin a conversation there are ways to end a conversation.
Ask for a business card – of course in Japan it is usual to present a card at the beginning of a business conversation. However in a more informal business setting you may not have exchanged cards yet.
Excuse yourself to get something to drink / eat / use the rest room.
Thank them for their time and excuse yourself so that you can say hello to a co-worker or another acquaintance.
Small talk for business English is always going to be necessary. It is unavoidable. Meeting new people is difficult for most of us, however if you are prepared with some conversation opening questions things will be much easier. Listing to your partner and encoring them to talk whilst you listen carefully will make the time fly.
Further business English small talk resources: