When taking part in online meetings, it’s beneficial to be relaxed and act naturally. Small talk is great to start a conversation and break the ice. It also sets the right tone and gets all the attendees on the right “wavelength” for the meeting agenda.
However, for so many people, this is easier said than done. When they are about to conduct small talk with the meeting attendees, they get a sort of stage fright and have problems communicating.
Although they stay at home, while working remotely, they feel like having to talk in front of a live audience of thousands. All of this can be nerve-wracking. That is why we’ve prepared for you a list of five key aspects of conducting small talk online. By following them, you will be able to feel more confident and at ease during your next online meeting, or any networking event.
Learn about those you will talk to
If you don’t know anything about the attendees, it’s perfectly normal to feel nervous or anxious. That is why it’s best to learn as much as you can about each conversation partner.
For starters, you can check out their social media profiles. Facebook and LinkedIn are a good start. There, you will find out a lot about each attendee, and that will usually be enough to strike up a relaxing conversation. You will learn about their education, work history, current job, etc.
Try your best to remember the attendees’ names; this is a strong sign of respect and it will show that you’ve prepared well. Then, when you address someone by their name, bring up their job position, their education, city of residence, etc.
A simple “I’ve seen that you worked/lived/studied in [...]” will usually be enough to get the conversation going in a natural way, without feeling forced.
Confront the cliches
In real life, it’s perfectly normal to expect cliches to pop up. Therefore, the worst thing to do in a situation like this is to ignore cliches.
For example, the weather is a frequent topic among people who don’t know each other well (in an elevator, at a bus stop, airport, etc.). It is the same during meetings. So, if someone brings up the topic of weather, don’t pretend like it didn’t happen, because it will create awkward silence and make matters worse.
What you should do is acknowledge the cliche and play along. You can even mention that, although discussing the weather is a cliche, it’s good for starting the conversation. Embrace cliches as part of the initial, informal part of the meeting and they will work in your favor.
Taken with a pinch of humor, cliches actually help you sound more human, so instead of avoiding them - accept them.
Careful with the jokes
Although jokes can be a great way to start a conversation and set the mood, you need to know when and how to use jokes to your advantage.
In general, it’s best to use jokes in less formal meetings, especially when the attendees are people you’re already acquainted with. If it’s a strictly formal meeting, and you don’t know anyone present, it’s best to refrain from jokes altogether.
Also, jokes shouldn’t be rude or offensive to no one. The joke should be lighthearted and witty; remember, the purpose here is not to tell the joke, but to relax the situation and ease into the meeting.
A couple of short jokes are more than enough. Don’t saturate the beginning of the conversation with jokes, because it will seem rude, even if the meeting is an informal one. Again, it’s very important to learn more about the attendees, so you know whether or not to use jokes at all.
Listen more than you talk
This is one of the best, if not the best, sign of good manners. By talking more than others, you will show only this: that you’re more interested in what you have to say than what others have to say. Work events are there so that a group of people can contribute to a common cause, so it’s very important to talk less and listen more.
The same goes for small talk. Don’t make it about yourself, but instead - try to engage everyone present. The idea is that everyone becomes more relaxed, so that the meeting can go on in a good spirit.
You can be a conversation starter, but don’t try to control it from start to finish. Try using open-ended questions, so others can have a chance to contribute, as the conversation unfolds. Also, try to maintain eye contact with each of the attendees, because it will help you stay more focused and it will show that you are invested in the conversation.
Un-awkward that silence
Sometimes, no matter what you use to break the ice, that awkward silence will follow. What to do then?
Simply, bring up a lighthearted subject and ignore the awkwardness of the moment. There are always new small talk topics to bring up. A good idea is to choose a lighthearted topic, such as something from pop culture (a TV show, movie), fun facts about your industry or line of work, a story from the news, an upcoming event, etc. In reality, awkward silences stop being a problem when you stop noticing them.
In conclusion, we have to mention the topics you shouldn’t bring up, as they can be perceived as too sensitive or too personal. Don’t talk about politics, religion, illness and death or physical appearance. Also, you should refrain from making any kind of personal comments; keep it relaxed and friendly and show genuine interest, but make sure you don’t cross the line of good manners.