Top ten non related work topics to talk about when you are entertaining clients
By Satnam Brar
While it may seem relatively unimportant in the business arena, being able to effectively engage in 'small talk' is an essential tool to help establish, develop and maintain lasting professional relationships with both customers and clients, as well as the people you work alongside on a day-to-day basis.
Although some people find small talk difficult or unenjoyable, it is an extremely useful method of getting to know people you have just met better. When we exchange social pleasantries we are effectively paving the way for others to have a deeper understanding of us, to know us better and in some cases become friends both in and out of work.
More often than not, professionals prefer to do business with people they know rather than people they don't. Engaging in small talk might also be that important first step in developing a career changing relationship.
As the old saying goes, 'fortune favours the bold' and initiating small talk is sometimes incredibly difficult for the shy or introverted. If it is something that you find excruciating, as many of us do, there are a few easy 'safe subjects' that are always good for opening conversations.
1. The weather
The old favourite. Did it tip down on your way to work/ the meeting? Is it a beautiful day to be at work and do you think the weather will stay good into the weekend? People love swapping weather related stories good or bad and, more often than not, they are a good lead in to branching out into other subjects.
The national team's performance - or lack of it in some cases - is always a safe topic of conversation and banter with rival supporters is always a good way to break the ice, as long as it is good-natured. Finding a common interest in popular participation sport is always a good way to strike up often quite long-lasting friendships both in and out of work. Golf, tennis and five-a-side football are quite often the favourites in this regard, though discovering you share a keen interest in a more obscure sport (kayaking, archery etc) with a client or customer can also put you in good stead to strike up a lasting business relationship.
3. Arts and entertainment
This includes theatre, music, film, television and books. Discussing the latest movie, television show or popular band is an excellent way to start up a conversation and build lasting relationships. With content being readily available on the internet through services such as Netflix or Amazon Prime and with the fairly new phenomenan of 'binge watching' digital box sets of popular shows such as Breaking Bad, Lost or The Wire there's never been a better time to join the discussion.
People are naturally inclined to talk to each other about their families. How long they have been married, numbers and ages of children, brothers and sisters and, sometimes what your father did or does for a living. Small talk of this nature helps potential customers, clients and work colleagues develop a picture in their mind about you from your background. You will be expected to reciprocate with questions of your own so be prepared - nobody likes someone who just talks about themselves. Show an interest in people and their families, ask intelligent questions and above all, listen.
Clients like to be told about vacations. Where you went and how it was. Particularly if it was 'off the beaten track' or an unusual holiday that is an interesting topic in itself. People like to get holiday tips and recommendations too.
6. News and current affairs
Knowing your way around the current hot topics is a good way to strike up a conversation and being well versed in international politics can demonstrate a strong intellect to potential customers. However, tread with caution when voicing your own personal opinion on a particular subject too stridently. While it's good to know your own mind, it's not worth alienating your colleagues or clients over.
7. Celebrity gossip
While it's not essential to know the 'ins and outs' of which celebrity's dating/marrying/divorcing/feuding with who, it's quite a good idea to know what's currently trending in case the subject comes up.
Where are you from? Have you always lived in the area or does your career mean you've had to travel around a lot. Asking about a client's hometown might also yield a unexpected benefit - they might be from near to where you're from.
In particular mobile phones. People love to show off their latest technology and clients and customers are no exception. Be prepared to be suitably impressed.
People always like to discuss their hobbies, and will no doubt be interested to ask you about yours. If you don't have one, it's worth taking the time to find out what you might like to pursue. An added benefit to this is that you will no doubt meet other people who share your new-found passion.