Toolbox | Small Talk Hacks to Boost Your Sales, Grow Your Network and Never Feel Awkward Again

Toolbox | Small Talk Hacks to Boost Your Sales, Grow Your Network and Never Feel Awkward Again

In today’s episode, we cover small talk with AJ, Johnny, and Michael. 

Getting on the question train is one of the most common mistakes people make in conversations without realizing it, but what is it, why does it kill conversations, and how do you avoid getting on it?

What to Listen For

  • The pitfalls that lead to one-sided conversations – 0:00 
  • What is the conversation formula you can use to create engaging conversations in any situation?
  • What is the conversation train and why do you want to avoid it when you’re talking to someone?
  • Why are people more likely to disclose personal information to strangers than to close friends?
  • The conversation formula – 13:20 
  • What is the best way to start a conversation with someone you don’t know?
  • What kind of questions should you avoid when making small talk?
  • What is the most important part of a conversation after asking the initial question and why do we often trip up over it?
  • What is the question train and how do you avoid it? – 27:20
  • Why does an endless series of questions deter people from wanting to talk to you?
  • What easy-to-remember visual can you keep in mind when making engaging small talk?
  • What are the 3 A’s of value we should be giving to people when we’re speaking to them?
  • What is emotional contagion and why is it important to understand when leading a conversation?

Asking questions is a critical part of engaging conversations. But asking too many questions can kill a conversation. A conversation should be a balance between asking questions, listening, and relating. That means after you ask a question, you should be listening to what the other person says, and then responding with a statement that shows you were listening and that you understand what the other person was trying to say. You ask a question, they share, you share, then you can ask another question or preferably, they ask the next question.

A Word From Our Sponsors

Share your vulnerabilities, victories, and questions in our 17,000-member private Facebook group at This is a unique opportunity where everyone — both men and women — celebrate your accountability on the way to becoming the best version of yourself. Register today here!

Resources from this Episode

Speaker 1: Today, Johnny and Michael are joining me to give you one simple trick to make all of your small talk more captivating. So let's jump right in. Welcome back to the art of charm podcast. The show designed to help you skyrocket your career, develop deeper relationships and unlock your hidden charisma. We know you have what it takes to reach your full potential. And every week we share with you interviews and strategies to help you transform your life by helping you unlock your X factor, whether you're in sales, project management, building client relationships, or looking for love, we got what you need. You shouldn't

Speaker 2: Have to settle for anything less than extraordinary.

Speaker 1: I'm AIJ. And I'm Johnny. This episode is all around small talk, but don't Bach because small talk is the key ingredient to get you ridiculous results in sales, romance, and networking. If you have an adverse reaction to small talk, it's probably because you've never developed it to a level where it provides you all the information you need to close that multi-million dollar deal. Ask that person out that gives you butterflies or create opportunities for future ventures that will unlock all that magical luck in your life. So if you're ready, grab your notebook and let's kick off the show. Now on our last toolbox episode, around emotional bids, we put together a little screensaver for you to download in thousands of people grab their screensaver. So we thought it'd be fun to make a little cheat sheet. First, small talk. So head to the art of to grab our smalltalk cheat sheet, where we're going to break down the conversation formula in today's episode, as well as give you some charismatic questions to power through those boring smalltalk conversations and make them more interesting and important.

Speaker 2: That's right. Head to the art of talk to get your cheese.

Speaker 1: All right, Johnny, let's kick off today's show. We have Michael joining us again for part two of our small talk toolbox. Let's kick it off. Now in a previous episode on small talk, we dispelled some myths and talked about one of the biggest mistakes that you are making when it comes to smalltalk and why you may find it boring uninteresting, or you just may be ineffective at actually creating the conversations that you want today. Johnny and Michael are joining me to discuss with you a simple trick that we can use to make our small talk captivating and allow you to instantly connect with anyone. So we're excited to dig into some science today and give you one of our time tested strategies straight from our bootcamp training that we teach to all of our coaching clients. So you can break out of boring, small talk and start having the conversations that you really want to have with strangers, friends, and family.

Speaker 1: So let's jump right in. Now, we got to start with our conversation formula because one of the things that we noticed in the last 15 years of running in-person training in our bootcamps, as well as online coaching in our X-Factor program is that many of us struggle with how to manage smalltalk and make it more exciting and fun for both the person we're talking to and ourselves. And in our video work in our bootcamp program, we're actually film you interacting with our coaches in smalltalk scenarios. We found time and time. Again, people just ran out of things to say they didn't really know how to lead and steer the conversation into more exciting topics. And of course, that led to both our coaches and our clients frustrated in conversation going nowhere. So we came up with a simple conversation formula that you can use in any situation I'm talking grocery store or shopping mall on a date, or just on the street corner, waiting for the light to change to cross. And this allows you to engage strangers in a much more meaningful way and hopefully create the conversations that are no longer

Speaker 2: Boring Aja. Before we get started with the conversation formula, I also want to lay out what problem the conversation formula solves. And this problem is one that all of us deal with from time to time, especially if there's tension and pressure on the interaction. So maybe you're meeting somebody for the first time, maybe you're on your first date or zoom meeting with somebody that you find attractive. Maybe you're just trying to break the ice in the cells and get to know your customer so that they would open up a bed. So you can get more information about them to be able to sell to them. Now, the problem that we're going to fix that the conversation format is going to fix is not having anything to say. And it devolving into a Terra gate of questioning. We all know that questions allow us to say something, but it also puts the pressure on the work on the other person to answer.

Speaker 2: So if I ask somebody a question, they're going to have to give me an answer. If I ask them another question, they're going to have to give me an answer. And you would think, well, doesn't that solve the problem? It's not the problem of asking the questions. It's the problem of asking too many questions you see, when you get nervous, it's easy to get stuck in what we call the question train, because you get stuck in your head. You're nervous. You're under pressure. There's a lot of tension on the interaction. This forces you to self sooth. So it forces you to go inward and then also into your head. So you're, now, if you get a question out, they're going to answer, but your brain is working on what to say next, and it's going to be easier for you to go. What is the next question I can ask?

Speaker 2: So now, rather than listening to the answer from the other person, you miss their answer and you're also in your head looking for another question and you blurt that out. Now, the problem comes when you ask too many questions in a row, the conversation collapses on itself because the other person who is in attention, stress pressure, filled situation of meeting you for the first time as now has the added pressure of having to answer all your questions. And you can only throw out so many questions in a row before the other person starts to fill extra tension of pressure, put on them. And they start to realize that they're putting in all the work, they're answering all your questions. And by the time you get to three, four questions in the row, they're feeling awkward. They're feeling interrogated

Speaker 1: And it's not your fault. We're huge fans of Dale. Carnegie's book how to win friends and influence people. And we've all heard. We just need to be more interested in the other person to become interesting. It's great advice, but it's not practical because what ends up happening is you take interest by asking more and more questions and stacking all of this pressure on the other person. But those questions don't solve the riddle to effective small talk, because you're not disclosing any information about yourself. And of course a stranger is going to be backpedaling. If they're telling you their favorite car, what their favorite sports team is, how they feel about the weather, where they work, how many kids they have, and you can see after a few minutes of conversation, well, there's an imbalance in how much you know about the other person versus how much they know about you.

Speaker 1: So we're taking that old advice from Dale Carney. Yes, you should be interested to be more interesting, but we're actually making it practical with our formula so that you can do it in a more impactful way and actually enjoy small talk. Because as we talked about in the last episode, enjoying small talk is very important for you to convey the right emotions to make you captivate again exciting. And we now know there's so many opportunities for you to turn smalltalk into connection. If you have the skill in your back pocket to make small talk more fun. And as you know, we love science here. So Michael, there's a study that backs this up around the importance of self-disclosure and why we can't just rely on questions to make small talk captivating. Yes, that's right.

Speaker 3: There's a lot of research around this. And my favorite comes from Sydney SRR and he writes and the self-disclosure and experimental analysis for the transparent self disclosure begets disclosure. So let me explain this. What he found is that a stranger is much more likely to share something personal with you. If you share something personal first, they are even more likely to share something personal than your close connections. Let me say that again, a stranger is more likely to share something personal with you than your close connections. And the reason for that is that when we engage with someone we don't know are actually two levels to this. The first one is that if you engage with someone you don't know, you'll automatically explain a little bit more. You mentioned things that with a close connection, you might not necessarily bring to the, to the forefront again, because you assume often wrongly that the other person thinks about this right now. And the other reason is that you tend to explain more and be more open yourself as well. And here it gets, here's where it gets really interesting and counterintuitive. Here's where it gets interesting and counterintuitive. This doesn't work when you're sharing facts. This only works if you're sharing emotions, but we'll get to that in the second part of what we have to share with you guys today. So let's talk about the conversation formula and how we can get out of this.

Speaker 1: So during our video work in bootcamp, one of our coaches came up to me and said, I find the same conversation happening over and over and over again. And we need to figure out a way to get our clients to stop asking so much questions, because I feel like I'm under a spotlight. Like I'm being interrogated as if I did something wrong and I don't think or feel that they actually care about my answers. So think about that for a second. If all you're doing is asking question after question, the other person starts to feel like, well, I can say anything. I could say, I love unicorns. And I was born on the moon. Aja is not doing anything with my responses. So we have to treat their answers to our questions with care and actually start to relate to their responses because what they're doing and giving us their answer is they're opening up conversational threads for us to explore and have fun with.

Speaker 1: So let's set the conversation formula because this is such a powerful skill to have on your tool belt. And it's so easy to apply everywhere in your life with every conversation. You're going to see the magic happen immediately when you follow this formula. So what do we do? We ask a question, right? We talked about it. Questions are great. They get the other person to open up and we're all wired as humans to help one another. So you've been stopped on the street with some stranger asking you for directions to the nearest Starbucks or what the time is, or how do I get to this gas station? I'm lost those questions. Even if we don't know someone at all, and we're in a hurry, we'll often stop to help a fellow human. It's just hard wired into our DNA and our survival mechanism to support one another because we're community creatures. So questions compel the other person to give you an answer versus just walking up to someone and making a statement like the weather's great. Well, if I make the statement, the weather's great that person standing at the stoplight could assume I'm talking to myself. Maybe I'm talking on my phone. I have my earbuds in. It's very easy for that person to assume that statement wasn't towards them. So a question is actually a very pointed way to start a conversation with a stranger. You're asking them for some bit of information,

Speaker 2: Want to add right there. You use the word that if you ask a question, it would compel them to answer. And that's exactly right. Most people are very friendly and more obliged you in answering that question. But remember it compels them. There is a nudge. That question is a nudge for them to answer. Go ahead.

Speaker 1: And we tested this in times square in union square in New York city, arguably one of the most difficult places on the planet to strike up conversations with strangers. You've probably heard how unfriendly new Yorkers are. We've used this in Vienna with Michael. So this question to start a conversation with strangers, universally works because of what Johnny just pointed out. Now, what are the questions? Because the questions are important here. These are not yes or no questions. We're not asking. Did you do you can, you were asking slightly open-ended questions. What are you drinking? Who are you with? Where are you from? These are questions that require an answer. That's more than just a yes or a no, or a grunt or a nod. Okay. That's a really important distinction here. And we actually spoke with Dr. Carol Robin at Stanford recently on an interview. And she said, we want to avoid the why questions. And especially in small talk, because why questions put people on the defensive? All right. So we're talking about who, what, where, when, how questions, those are great questions to ask someone for the first time to strike up that conversation. And it's an important first step in our conversation formula. So age, I want

Speaker 2: To put a quick example here. You're having a drink at the bar and you decided to start talking to the person next to you and you strike up a conversation and you ask, Oh, so what is it that you do for a living? Oh, well they answer back. I'm a nurse. Now the closed ended question is, do you enjoy that line of work?

Speaker 1: Well, yes I do.

Speaker 2: Now you have to find yourself another question because the conversation is dead. So rather than asking, do you like that line of work? What if you ask, what is it about that line of work you enjoy so much, do you see and how they now have to think about a few different reasons and you're focusing them on what they enjoy about their line of work. So you've also put them in a positive state where they can now begin to give you a few reasons about why they cherish being enough.

Speaker 1: The thing with question trainers, that I very often get emails from people that listen to the podcast. And whenever they talk about their skill at small talk, which is usually fairly low, if non-existent their number one question is Michael. I always run out of questions. What are some more questions I could ask, which is pun intended, the wrong question to ask. This is where the question answer statement comes in and we've probably all heard of the Ford method to small talk. These are the four topics of small talk that everyone loves to engage in. So the Ford acronym stands for family, occupation, recreation, and dreams. So what do you do for a living? You're asking them about their occupation. What do you and your family enjoy doing on the weekends? You're now bringing up family and you're also talking about recreation. So the Ford method still works, right?

Speaker 1: It's great topics, but we're striking up that conversation with the question. That's the key because it gets the other person to open up. And it really shows us very quickly if this person wants to have small talk, right? Instead of making statements, blurting things out, reading can lines that you have found on the internet. All we have to really do is put on our thinking hat and get a little bit more curious about the other person. And all of a sudden, we're going to start to see conversational threads appear out of thin air. Now, the second part of our equation, we've asked the question. We have to listen to their answer. And as Johnny pointed out, this is often very difficult for us. If we're feeling a little bit of anxiety, we're feeling unsure of ourselves. And we're trying to think about the next perfect thing to say, if you're doing that and you're anticipating their response, you're not actually to their answer.

Speaker 1: And this is a pitfall that many of our clients fall into in this video work exercise in bootcamp, where they have a question they've thought about it. And they start to anticipate what the person's going to say in response. So they can start thinking about, Oh, now I know what the next step is going to be. And inevitably, they don't hear the answer they were anticipating. And we do that as a way to practice difficult conversations. But oftentimes with strangers, they're not going to give you the answer that you're anticipating. So let's not get ahead of ourselves and start thinking about the next thing we could ask. And the next thing we could say, if we stick to the formula, we have to treat their answer as gold. Their answer is what we are in the third step going to relate to. So we've asked the question, we listened to their answer question.

Speaker 1: Plus answer equals drum roll, please. A statement. This is what we actually disclose something about ourselves. We can answer our own question. We can talk specifically and relate to their answer, or we can make a non-sequitur based on something that their answer provided or made us think about. But either way, our response is not another question. I want to share something for our most analytical and probably perceptive listeners, which is the question we get all the time. How can I make a statement if I don't know anything about what they just shared? Guess what you not knowing about that is a statement I've never been to Vienna. Oh man, I've actually never stayed in Las Vegas. I had no idea. There are entire facades of cities and fake Eiffel towers. And then ask another question. You're allowed to say, I don't know. I have never, uh, I've never watched a football game.

Speaker 1: I've never played basketball. That's okay, too. That level of disclosure, as Michael shared earlier in the science allows the other person to feel comfortable, disclosing something and getting more vulnerable. But so many of us, we go into small talk. We think I have to relate. I have to agree. I have to become someone that I'm not. And if I don't like sports, if I'm not into those things that my coworkers talk about at the water cooler, while I guess I should avoid it, I guess I shouldn't engage in it. And that's just the wrong way to look at things. When you provide someone else an opportunity to explain, to educate, to share what excites them, what they're passionate about, you actually make them happier. You create an opportunity where they feel better. Again, it's counterintuitive, but the science shows when we're helping others. And we're explaining to others when we're teaching to others and sharing our gifts, we're actually happier.

Speaker 1: So by saying you don't know something, you're providing a special moment for that person to really relish and think about what drew them to champions, league soccer. Well, actually watching games with my dad growing up really got me excited about soccer. And now you can think about a shared experience with your father. Maybe your father took you fishing. Maybe your father took you hunting. That's a simple way to relate. Even if the core topic of what was chosen, doesn't seem to be something that you're interested in or you're even familiar with. So let's not fall into that pitfall. That's a common one that we hear. And there's one other pitfall that I want to point out that Johnny illustrated in that example with Michael that's, sometimes even if you have the best question, you're going to get a one word answer. You're going to get a great, you're going to get a cool, you're going to get an awesome, and in that situation, answer your own question, demonstrate for that person who might be shy, nervous, introverted, or not quite hearing exactly what you're asking, demonstrate and disclose your answer to that question.

Speaker 1: And you would be surprised just again, giving that opportunity. So we're asking a question or answering your own question. Why would I do that? Because as Michael shared, the science shows, when we disclose, we open the door to more disclosure from strangers. So you don't have to think about this. If I can only disclose around friends or people that I trust, we're actually wired to disclose more around strangers and you answering your own question, that disclosure powers the conversation. And here's the thing. What we're actually doing in the conversation formula is we're giving the other person value. Our definition of value is attention, acceptance and appreciation. We're giving them attention by listening to their answers. We're giving them acceptance by in our statements, responding to their answers, relating to their answers, accepting what they're sharing. And of course from time to time, that relation that we have might actually be appreciative in celebrating something that the other person shared with us.

Speaker 1: So these small micro interactions and small talk moments that we're having with the conversation formula, provide that opportunity for other people to feel amazing around us. And by Angelou has that famous quote that so many of us go back to people don't remember what you say. They don't remember what you do. They just remember how you made them feel. So if you make them feel heard, if you make them feel connected, if you make them feel appreciated, they are going to remember you for the right reasons. And so many of us, again, as we talked about in the previous smalltalk episode, have this idea implanted in our brain that small talk has to be boring. Small talk is boring. We label it as boring. We try to jump over it and skip it entirely. It only serves us. If we don't take that, if we actually bring some enthusiasm and excitement and energy into these conversations.

Speaker 1: So words matter as you know of the art of charm, but also are body language, our vocal tonality, and the way we express those words matter. So when we're in small talk, we want to talk about how important it is to be expressing excitement, enthusiasm, and engagement in our body language, in our room, the answers to their questions and statements, because that's what really connects us. And those emotional States stand out and people remember it. And sometimes they'll even give you your wallet back. If they pickpocketed it as humans, we relate emotionally, and we will often mirror the emotions that other people around us are sharing. So that's why the conversation formula has to be delivered with enthusiasm, excitement, and engagement, to showcase to the other person that you actually care about their answers. Now in the 1990s, a number of studies fleshed out the concept of emotional contagion.

Speaker 1: The idea is that humans synchronized with the emotions of those around them, either unconsciously or consciously. And typically we may even mimic other people's expressions, vocalizations, and movements, even absolute strangers. So at its most basic level, if someone smiles at you, you often will smile back and in turn, it makes both of you happy. So we want, she used this exact concept to our advantage. When we're asking that question, we're smiling, we're making eye contact. We are showcasing the positive emotion. We want the other person to feel and embody and mirror back to us. That's what makes small talk captivating. I had my arms crossed my eyes looking down and I looked with a furrowed brow now and said, what are you drinking? Michael? I'm gonna get a much different response than a big smile saying, what are you drinking Alex? Really good. So you have to remember that our emotional state conveyed in the conversation formula is going to be mirrored back at us.

Speaker 1: So if you find yourself asking questions and not getting warm responses, not getting positive responses like we demonstrated earlier, odds are, you're probably not expressing those warm and positive emotions, which we see time and time again, in our bootcamp video work sizes internally, you may be feeling over the moon excited, but a lot of us have become so stoic and stern in our facial expressions and our responses and in our body language that we're not conveying that warmth and positive energy. When we deliver that question, when we strike up a conversation. So if that's a pitfall that you're facing, you've done the formula. You've listened to this podcast. You've taken notes diligently, and you're excited to use it, but you're not getting that warmth and response odds are, you got to look at your body language and the emotions you're conveying when you are asking those questions, when you are giving your statements back in response, because they may not be conveying the message that you want. And certainly not making you memorable.

Speaker 3: Now this stuff you don't have to get perfect right now, what you're thinking right now is the first time I'm going to try this. I'm going to, Oh, I'm to know what I'm doing. I'm going to screw it up a little bit. Listen, you don't have to be perfect at this. Just bringing this in a little bit is going to make your conversations, your small talk so much better than before. So don't let perfection be the enemy of good right train. And here's how we want you to train this because the amazing thing is that while it's easy to practice with strangers, you can practice with everyone. So the next time you call your best friend, the next time you sit together with your partner, the next time you go for a walk and you talk to that person at the pedestrian crossing, bring in the statement and introduce it there and just practice around with it. This is something to have fun with. This is not something to get 150% perfect all the time. So next phone call, maybe have a post-it note next to your phone that says, make statements. Um, maybe the next time you're on a soon call, you have this post-it note next to your monitor that says make statements. And the next time you would talk with your family, make statements.

Speaker 1: So to recap, the most important thing that we want you to understand is the science behind self-disclosure and why counter-intuitively, we will actually share more with strangers than our close friends. Often assuming that our close friends and family already know this information, but with strangers, we're more likely to actually self disclose. And that's what we use that science in our conversation formula to allow you to have captivating small talk, when we're disclosing with strangers, it begets more disclosure from them. So it's a great way for us to actually start having great conversations with the people that we're meeting the conversation. Formula. Super simple question, listen to their answer equals a statement from you. Even if you've never experienced it. You may not be familiar with what they're talking about, or that's just not one of your favorite things to do. Letting other people know that in your statement still powers that conversation forward.

Speaker 1: And certainly doesn't make it boring. The last point in all of this is if you're not bringing energy and enthusiasm, you're not using the emotional contagion to actually get the other person to mirror back that emotion. Well, you are going to be stuck in boring, small talk because your energy tells the other person that you're not interested or enthusiastic about anything that you're sharing or asking of them. And in turn, they're not going to feel willing or interested to share more with you. Now, the next toolbox episode, we're going to talk about transitioning out of small talk. So if you've listened to the last toolbox episodes, you now know some of the myths and one of the biggest mistakes you might be making with small talk. And today you got a simple strategy to make small talk more compelling and captivating

Speaker 4: [inaudible].

Speaker 2: As we said at the beginning, if you have that adverse reaction to hearing small talk, it's probably because you haven't developed those skills. However, man, this episode was action packed and everything in this show will go to help those

Speaker 1: Well, we know hope is not a strategy. And if you don't have a plan going into small talk or a formula for success, waiting around for opportunities to strike you is not going to lead to you reaching your full potential. I know in the past I struggled with small talk because I labeled it as boring and I avoided it. And hopefully today's toolbox episode gave you some key science-backed strategies to finally start enjoying small talk and open up a world of possibility. We got a shout out this week, right? Johnny?

Speaker 2: Absolutely. We want to give a shout out to Jason and our X-Factor accelerator program. Jason has been crushing it at work, but too hard on himself lately. And our core confidence coaching inside the X-Factor accelerator program allowed him to see key insights that were hidden in his blind spots. Last Saturday, he made a huge realization about his inner critic that finally unlocked his X factor. He won over a few key colleagues with his new attitude and grew his influence in the department so that they had begged him to finally apply to the dream role. He's always pine for it, never thought he was able to get so thank you, Jason, for all your hard work and putting your new, emotional intelligence training to good use. We can't wait to see what the next stage of your career

Speaker 1: Are you stuck in your career? Are you not as far along as you should be or even worse where you passed over for that promotion that you know you deserve. We know it takes more than hard work to get ahead. When you unlock your X factor like Jason, you have the ability to influence, persuade and build meaningful relationships to take your career to that next level. Well, perhaps it's time to shake up your life and challenge yourself with our X-Factor accelerator program. It's a year long mentorship with me, Johnny and the entire art of charm team and a fantastic network of top performers like Jason, ready to help support you reach full potential. It's time for you to make the commitment to change today. Let us guide you into discovering your X factor, head on over to unlock your X and apply today. That's unlock your X-Factor dot com.

Speaker 1: Join us today, and we'll be shouting you out on the show next week. We hope you enjoyed this toolbox episode. We're bringing more toolboxes to the podcast this year, and we want to hear from you, what topics do you want us to tackle on upcoming podcast episodes, email [email protected] or find us on social media at the art to charm on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, to let us know what you want help with before we go, could you do us and the team here at the art of charm, a huge favor, open up Apple podcasts and rate this show. We've been getting some phenomenal reviews lately and it really means the world to us. The art of charm podcast is produced by Michael Harold and Eric Montgomery until next week. I'm Johnny and I'm Aja. And don't forget to grab your small talk cheat [email protected] slash smalltalk.

Speaker 4: [inaudible].

Check in with AJ and Johnny!

Get the Best of the Best

With over 800 podcast episodes, it’s hard to know where to start.
Let’ us help.

You may also want to listen...