Networking Success Through Small Talk

Today is Thursday, so this post is on communication skills.

Last year, I did a podcast with Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk.  Debra is an expert at helping people become better conversationalists and networkers.  Here is an excerpt of what she had to say.

Bud:  Today’s guest is Debra Fine.  Debra is a nationally recognized speaker and trainer and the author of a really cool book called The Fine Art of Small Talk.  Debra’s worked with well known companies, IBM, Wells Fargo Bank, Lockheed Martin, among others.  She’s been a guest on the Today Show and NPR, but she tells me that this is the highlight, being on the Common Sense talk show.  Debra will share with us advise on important career-enhancing skills like how to start a conversation, how to avoid awkward silences, how to listen to make yourself a better communicator, how to exit conversations gracefully, and most important, how to turn every conversation into an opportunity for success.  Welcome Debra.

Debra:  Thanks, Bud.  It’s great to be here.  Now if I really had said that it was better to be with you than to be on the Today Show or NPR, then that would be what I call “shmoozing”, not small talk.  There’s a big distinction there.

Bud:  What is schmoozing? 

Debra:  Schmoozing, in my humble opinion, is insincerity.  It’s almost like that networking person who you can just sense is not being sincere or honest or authentic.  Schmoozing is out to get something, out to take, and not to give.  So that’s got nothing to do with what my book is about, or what I’m about, so that’s just my opinion.  What’s your opinion about networking these days, just out of curiosity?

Bud:  Well, I think networking probably one of the most important things in building a career.  It’s not just for people like you and I who are in business for ourselves.  I think it’s important for anybody who wants to build a career.  You never know when you’re going to have the opportunity to make a powerful impression on somebody that can have a positive impact on your life and career.

Debra:  And that’s a wonderful answer and I would agree with it.  Can you now spot a networker that’s a schmoozer?  Do you know what I’m saying? 

Bud:  Yes, I do…

Debra:  And that’s, we often, at least I often run into a schmoozer as well as a good quality networker and I can really appreciate the distinction. 

Bud:  You talk about creating good feelings.  I think is really important and it gets back to small talk.  I was thinking, as you were describing the attorney who sat at a business lunch playing with his food as opposed to interacting with the other people at the table, that he’s probably at best losing opportunities and at worst possibly, even causing some problems for his law firm where somebody down the road might say “yeah, I met so-and-so from there and he was kind of a jerk, he never talked to anybody all night.”

Debra:  Right, or a snob.

Bud:  Or a snob.

Debra:  Shy people are often viewed as snobs because they don’t mingle or visit. The theme of my book is how to mingle and visit.  Here are some icebreakers; here are some exit lines; here is everything in between.  In the end though it’s the sense that we are judged by the people we interact with.  If anybody has read the book “Blink”, we are judged by that impression that we make; and that good feelings are created by the use of conversational skills.  I really believe that.  I believe that if you are awkward to be with because you never have anything to talk about when we’re together or there are these momentary pauses in our conversations, or we’re walking down the hall and it’s awkward, people will judge you in a negative way.

Small talk is the appetizer for any relationship.  So for instance, if you have a business conversation with, whether it be the selling of a widget, the provision of a service, let’s say, is what your business does, or the negotiation of a contract, a presentation, whatever it may be…you have a business conversation, if you can put sort of a picture frame around that business conversation of small talk, either before the business conversation and/or after, then you will develop business friendships, and all things being equal, people doing business with their friends, and all things not beings so equal, people still do business with their friends, so this is the appetizer that leads into the business relationship.  If you start with the negotiations of the contract of the provision of services, unless you introduce small talk, you will not develop a business friendship.  You will have done business, but in the hopes of getting referrals, return business etc., in the hopes of getting hired.  Let’s say if you’re a candidate for a job, in the hopes that when you’re out there recruiting candidates for your company, you know they can go to another company, so what’s going to provide them with those good feelings?  I believe you can do that with conversational skills, to provide them with those good feelings.  So small talk is just using your words to build relationships.  Bud, small talk can be pretty much common sense stuff, it’s just not common practice, and it’s not rocket science either.  So, if you incorporate the small talk into your repertoire, you’re more likely to be successful than if you don’t. 

Bud:  I think what you’re saying is right on.  When people ask me “how do you sell?”  I always tell them (a) I try to get someone to like me because I believe if they can like me than it makes it easier for them to trust me, particularly in the kind of work that I do – consulting and coaching – trust is important.  Then (b) if they trust me then they are more likely to buy from me.  So I really sort of try to follow that cycle is to get them to like me as an individual which makes it easier for them to trust me as a professional which then makes it easier for them to buy my services.  And I think it all gets right back to what you were saying.

Debra:  I agree with everything that you just said.

Some common sense advice from Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk.  Use small talk to build personal relationships first and the business relationships will follow.  Or, to put it another way, make yourself an interesting conversationalist, and you’ll be on your way to career and life success.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense.  Check out my other blog: for common sense advice on leading people and running a small business.

I’ll see you around the web, and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand – my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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