One might naturally assume that a person who works in a social field like public relations would be a born extrovert. Well, you know what they say about assuming…
Difficult though it may be to fathom, not all PR people are skilled at working a room. And, for some full-blown and borderline introverts, like me, opportunities to make small talk can be awkward – if not downright painful.
Me: “Wow. Great turnout tonight.”
Dining companion to my left: “Yep.”
I want to keep the conversation going, but I can’t think of a thing to say. So, what’s an introverted PR pro to do when duty calls and it’s time to attend a networking event or client get-together? Try out these three tips for turning polite chit-chat into a more meaningful exchange.
Have a game plan: No need to script conversations before heading out the door to an event, but it never hurts to keep a couple flexible topics up your sleeve to get the ball rolling – or to keep it rolling if things start to lag. Start simple, with open-ended questions that deal with a topic you have in common at the moment, such as “How do you know the host?” or “How many times have you attended this event in the past?” The former offers a good opportunity for both of you to share how you know the host (and perhaps discover additional acquaintances in common). The latter can open the door to conversations about the best, worst or most entertaining events you’ve attended in the past – or those you’d like to attend in the future.
Other prep tips: scan the headlines to make sure you’re up on current news and entertainment events, just in case you need a filler topic, or ask an ice-breaker question, like, “What’s been the best part of your day?”
Be a good listener: One of the easiest ways to avoid small talk is to talk less. Instead of wracking your brain trying to find an interesting way to comment on the endless string of hot days we’ve been having, ask a few strategic, getting-to-know you questions designed to find common ground with the person with whom you’re conversing. Then, be genuinely interested in their responses. For introverts, this is a win-win situation. Most extroverts love talking about themselves, and most introverts would rather listen to someone else’s stories than to share their own.
Don’t fear the silence: Despite your best efforts, awkward silences may still creep in. Don’t fight them. Either change the subject or politely excuse yourself to refresh your drink. You’ll both be glad you did.