“So… have you got any brothers or sisters?”

If you’re leading with this sort of inane drivel, you have plenty to learn when it comes to the fine art of mastering small talk!

Small talk is the precursor to the establishment of all relationships and when you get it right, you’ll move up in the business world much quicker.

In short, you need to be interested in the person you’re talking to. Great small talkers are actually superb listeners.

When you meet someone for the first time, focus on finding common ground to get off to a smooth start. Look for clues as to what that person might be interested in. You might spy their mobile phone’s home-screen picture and use that to kick-start your conversation, “I gather you’re a Tiger Woods fan?” If they’re holding a copy of Kym Illman’s The Future Is Customer Service book, make mention of it, “Penny, I see you’ve got a copy of Kym’s latest book. How far into it are you?” Or perhaps a colleague has told you that the person you’re talking to has just received a promotion? “Hey Carol, congratulations on your new Sales Manager role, I gather you’ll be travelling more this year.”

The whole idea of small talk is to ease into a relationship. You want the other person to like you, and to that end, you should be focused on letting the other party talk normally about something they love, for example their business or themselves. I remember reading How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie many years ago. One of the lessons I took from that book was that if you can find a way to keep someone else talking at length about themselves or something they love, that person will warm to you instantly. They will think you’re a champion and all you have to do is listen to them; it’s one of the highest compliments you can pay someone.

Next time you’re faced with having to make small talk, make a real effort to find some common ground and then steer the conversation in that direction. Ask questions, be enthusiastic about the other person’s responses and know that if you appear interested in that person, they will come to like you.