Small talk serves a great purpose. Good small talk helps create a deeper bond, especially in business settings. Unfortunately, no matter how seasoned of a conversationalist you are, sometimes business conversations can seem awkward or forced.
To help you out, here are five simple things you can do to get the conversation flowing and make a truly meaningful client connection:
1. Express curiosity
One of the simplest ways to make meaningful client connections is to express curiosity. Did they say something clever or interesting? Ask them to elaborate. Did they make a passing comment about their family or their plans for the weekend? Ask about the details. Asking good questions demonstrates that you are actively engaged in the conversation and deepens the bond between you and your client, even if it’s off topic, so don’t be afraid of asking questions that don’t pertain to business.
“Have any fun plans for the weekend?
“Oh, you have a dog? What’s his name?”
“How was your anniversary last week?”
2. Make it about them
Have you ever been trapped in a conversation with someone who centers the conversation on themselves? It isn’t pleasant in personal conversations, and conversations with clients are certainly no exception. Flattery is a useful conversation tool in business, so make sure that the conversation is about them. Show interest in their opinions and experiences by noticing things about them and making kind observations. Compliments and positive feedback encourage them to open up and trust you more in business.
“That’s a really good point, [their name].”
“You sound chipper today. Did you have a nice weekend?”
“What do you think about this? I really value your feedback.”
3. Do your research
Prior to meeting with a client, do your research. What is their job and at what company? Where are they based? This information can give you a lot of ideas to break the ice. If you know they are the owner of a business located in New York, you can ask how they got into their industry or about the range of their professional responsibilities. Or if you are looking for a more casual conversation, you could discuss current events in New York such as entertainment and well-known establishments. Just a little bit of background information gives way to a lot of topics.
“How long have you been at your company?”
“You live in Boston? How’s the snow over there? I hear it’s crazy.”
“Oh, you’re a [job title]. What kind of stuff do you do?”
4. Find commonalities
To establish more meaningful client connections and to make conversation easier long into the future, it is wise to search for commonalities. Did they just get back from a vacation? Ask if they like to travel. If travel is an interest of yours as well, you’ve found some common ground to draw on. Actively listen for hints on their hobbies and interests, including favorite sports teams, volunteer work, or just what they like to do during their off time.
“You like the Steelers? Me too! Did you see the game last week?”
“I’m glad to hear you had a nice time on your cruise. Do you like to travel?”
“I was just finished reading [book title/article/etc]. Have you read anything interesting lately?”
5. Don’t forget to listen
As we fret about awkward silences or unnatural conversation, we often forget to listen, which may be the more crucial part of creating meaningful client connections. Conversation is a two-way street, so be sure to listen for cues and try not to interrupt them. There are many things you can do to be an active listener on the job, such as adding short commentary to show you are listening and prompting them to continue. Even try referring to earlier statements in the conversation when possible to demonstrate your focus.
“Interesting. That’s a really good point.”
“That reminds me, earlier you said, ‘[X].’ How about [Y].”
“I agree with [restate what they said].”
Small talk is an inevitable part of business, but there are ways to master it and use it to your advantage. Next time you are meeting with a client, keep these tips handy and watch as you engage in a conversation that is sure to create a strong personal and professional bond.