Become a mistress of small talk

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Shooting the breeze is hard work. Public relations maven and co-founder of White Label PR Freda Yuin knows how much effort it is.  Here’s how she – and you – can have a convo with just about anybody. Yes, even us shy ones. 


I am always on Facebook 

“I need to have an opinion on what’s happening around the world and Facebook is the most useful way for me to stay up to date. It directs me to stories – both news and pop culture-related – that are going viral.

I follow sites like Mashable, Buzzfeed, BBC, and like or comment on posts I find interesting and beneficial. Doing that makes my feed more informative, because the Facebook algorithm pushes content from the pages you regularly engage with, higher up on your feed.”


I go deep, really deep

“I try not to limit the breadth and depth of a conversation. Take Beyonce at this year’s Grammy Awards. I could choose to focus on how amazing her outfit was, or I could discuss how Adele broke her Grammy award because she felt Beyonce was the more deserving winner for what her music had done to empower women of colour. It’s the same topic, but with two different points of view. The latter makes for a more engaging and meaningful discussion.”


Awkward silences are my friend

“Even if you’re prepared, it’s challenging to find common ground with a stranger. But I’m not always the first to initiate the conversation after we’ve said hello. I allow the awkward silence to linger, to see if the other person starts the ball rolling. It’s much easier to go from there, rather than try to find something to talk about out of nowhere.”


My surroundings are my springboard

“If I’m at a company event, we can talk about our departments. If I’m in a cafe, I warm things up by asking about food recommendations.”


I never go wrong talking about travel

“The general rule: start with safe and general topics, like travel. Someone who’s more open will share anecdotes and opinions about a recent trip, and it’s easy to take off from there. For someone who is more private, you can stick to a more objective angle – for example, by asking if the post-Brexit climate will affect her plans to travel to the UK.”


I listen, learn, and use what I hear

“Find that gap in the conversation where someone has revealed something more intimate about themselves, and be quick to use it. Here’s an example. You say how bad the weather is, and the woman you’re chatting with agrees, adding that her child’s soccer practice was cancelled because of the rain. There’s your window to turn a superficial chat into something more personal – by asking about her son, and how long he’s been playing soccer. If you were to run into her again at another event, it’s easy to re-enter the conversation by asking after her kid. It shows you paid attention. Brownie points.”


Good advice for frogs in wells

Check Facebook before any event. “Even if I don’t have the time to click on all the links, I scan the headlines. It gives me enough to start conversations and join in discussions,” says Freda.


 Know when to bow out

In spite of your best efforts, some people simply aren’t the chatty sort. Read their body language for clues that they really don’t want to talk to you make a gracious exit. Pushing the conversation could create a lasting bad impression.

  • Crossed arms
  • Looking off or facing elsewhere
  • A closed body posture.