The Big Impact of Small Talk

“How are you doing?”
“How’s the weather where you are?”
“What’s new?”
“What’s your sign?”

We all use small talk a lot to start of conversations. But too many times in business meetings, we use opening questions like those above (Ok…probably not the last one!), the answers to which do nothing to move your relationship or meeting goals forward. I can’t stress enough that time with a client should be used wisely right from the start.

The moment you greet your client must be light, tight and bright. This is the point in time…just after the “Hello” and handshake…to say something that proves you know their business and their needs are an obvious concern of yours.

Small Talk Takes Planning

Being successful with small talk is not a given. Solid, connected client small talk takes planning and forethought. You’ve done your homework, reading articles, studying financial reports, learning about the competition and prepared a solid recommendation. Now is the time to make that work payoff right out of the gate. An example:

A client of mine had an upcoming meeting with a key executive. Before the meeting, I insisted that together we study the company’s web site, review 11 pages of news, determine if any new products were being introduced (by them or their competition), review the executive’s LinkedIn profile and look over other publicly available information. When we arrived, he already had his opening line ready so….”Hello”….handshake…and then he asked: “Curious…when do you think you’re new product will be approved by the FDA since it’s already approved in Canada?” The client was visibly impressed, perked up and said, “How did you know that we were working on that exact issue yesterday?”

And the conversation went on from there….with no mention of the weather!

And Quick Reactions

While preparing your opening small talk in advance is a good idea, you’ll also need to be quick on your feet. Small talk may lead to something you need to react to and if you don’t pick up the signals, you’ll lose an opportunity to impress.

For example, I once accompanied a client on a meeting with one of the world’s largest ad agencies. When the assistant media director greeted us, she said, “Sorry, I’m running late. I’ll only have 10 minutes for you. Things are crazy since I’ve moved back from London.” What my client heard was “10 minutes.” So, to be respectful of her time, he quickly launched into his presentation. What I heard was “moved back from London.” At the end of the meeting, I asked, “Since moving back, have you noticed that advertising people in the UK have more savvy than New York advertising people?” She immediately brightened up, relaxed her face and body briefly and said, “I can’t believe you said that! That’s the main thing I’ve noticed since I returned.”

The ice was broken…but unfortunately it was at the END of the meeting. My client should have engaged the client and asked about her return with a sense of real caring and empathy. Heck…she had as much as said that the return was causing her stress. He needed to “stay in the pain” and ask about it. What a different meeting that might have been.

So, the next time you meet with someone, be sure you have an opening remark, comment or question prepared that relates to their business. And, be ready to listen, think and react to their opening lines. Keep doing this for meetings and you’ll never talk about the weather again!