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Never Underestimate The Power of Small Talk

Never Underestimate The Power of Small Talk
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Small talk is a vastly underrated occurrence.

Although dreaded by most people, it does, in fact, play a vital role in establishing relationships – whether that relationship happens to be in business, in a social context, or in a client/provider situation.

Can you imagine a world without small talk?

Think about it.

Small talk is our first attempt at getting to know someone. Not one relationship you have had, apart from that in a close family setting, has started with anything other than small talk. That seemingly insignificant ‘passing the time’ with someone gives us the first inkling of whether we have anything in common with another person.

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Would you have gotten to know your husband or wife, fallen in love and married had you not both exchanged small talk at the beginning? If you can think back to the very first contact you had with someone who became a ‘significant other’ in your life, what do you remember? Did you immediately fall in love with them? Highly unlikely.

Did you bump into each other at the bar and know without any shadow of a doubt that you would be in a relationship with them, within the first minute of seeing them and without having exchanged a word? Of course, love at first sight does happen, but it’s rare, and most times we have to get to know somebody first before we can decide to take it further.

And the way we do that is through small talk. Just like listening skills, being good in small talk is an essential interpersonal skill for everyday life. Take, as another example, that most famous of small talk venues – the hair salon. They are, for the most part, notorious for it, and on the surface it’s as annoying as hell.

But – just imagine what it would be like without it. You would go in, take a seat, explain what you wanted, have your hair done, pay, and leave. Ok, so straight to the point and no messing. But wouldn’t you much rather share a much friendlier hour or so, with someone who greets you by name and with a smile?

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Small talk is vital in keeping our social connections alive.

Isn’t it much nicer to pass that time talking about things which require no effort, with another human being who asks after your family, who remembers that your youngest has just started school? Someone who is interested in whether your holiday to the Caribbean was as good as the pictures you showed her in the brochure the last time you were there?

In these days of screens and virtual reality, human interaction is diminishing, which is why small talk is vital in keeping that connection alive. How dull and unfriendly your first day at a new job would be without small talk. Nobody to give you snippets of office politics. No-one to tell you where the tea and coffee is. Not a soul regaling you with stories of the difficult customers, or the grumpy manager.

It is small talk which makes the days go faster and feel more interesting. It is small talk which makes you feel noticed, and included, and part of the human race. Even a job interview will start with small talk, likewise a visit to the doctor, or the dentist, or the bank manager.

Small talk puts us at ease.

Some people can go days and weeks without talking to a soul. Just think about that for a moment, days and weeks without hearing another person’s voice apart from on the TV. Can you even begin to imagine how important small talk is to that person? Again it is that human contact, the interaction with another person.

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Indulging in an insignificant exchange with a lonely person can make all the difference to how alone they feel. Five minutes swapping pleasantries will probably mean the world to an elderly man who finds himself alone after 50 years of marriage, or to an old lady whose family has emigrated and who she rarely hears from.

Giving them a few moments of your time, while tiresome to you, can be the light at the end of the long tunnel of solitude for someone who has nobody else. Sadly, right now, the world is troubled by prejudice – whether it is because of race, religion, colour or sexuality. Somebody who belongs to one of those ‘minority’ groups can feel unsafe, or unwelcome in their own town, or workplace, and that must be a terrible way to feel.

So can you imagine what a relief it would be to be on the receiving end of a smile, and a few words of insignificant conversation? Those passing comments cost you nothing, but could be enough to lift that person’s spirits, give them a feeling of belonging, and acceptance. How powerful is that, to make another person feel safe?

There’s a magic around the corner…

And small talk can give rise to the most serendipitous of happenings.

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Let’s suppose you have just finished work for the day and you emerge from the building and it is raining. You stand for a moment under cover of the doorway while you look for your umbrella. A man standing next you remarks that it’s nice weather for ducks. You assume he is bemoaning the fact that it’s raining, whereas it’s your favourite kind of weather, and you tell him so. He smiles, and admits that it’s his favourite too, and you notice his smile.

Now maybe this conversation ends there. At the very least, your day has been brightened by a stranger’s beautiful smile.

Or, possibly, you stay a while, indulge in more trivia which ends in exchanging phone numbers, or going for a coffee around the corner…maybe you end up together, with this handsome man with the beautiful smile and a love of rain.

And that, right there, is the magic of small talk.

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Featured photo credit: Dan Cooper via stokpic.com

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Last Updated on July 20, 2021

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Overcome the Fear of Public Speaking (A Step-by-Step Guide)
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You’re standing behind the curtain, just about to make your way on stage to face the many faces half-shrouded in darkness in front of you. As you move towards the spotlight, your body starts to feel heavier with each step. A familiar thump echoes throughout your body – your heartbeat has gone off the charts.

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one with glossophobia(also known as speech anxiety or the fear of speaking to large crowds). Sometimes, the anxiety happens long before you even stand on stage.

Your body’s defence mechanism responds by causing a part of your brain to release adrenaline into your blood – the same chemical that gets released as if you were being chased by a lion.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you overcome your fear of public speaking:

1. Prepare yourself mentally and physically

According to experts, we’re built to display anxiety and to recognize it in others. If your body and mind are anxious, your audience will notice. Hence, it’s important to prepare yourself before the big show so that you arrive on stage confident, collected and ready.

“Your outside world is a reflection of your inside world. What goes on in the inside, shows on the outside.” – Bob Proctor

Exercising lightly before a presentation helps get your blood circulating and sends oxygen to the brain. Mental exercises, on the other hand, can help calm the mind and nerves. Here are some useful ways to calm your racing heart when you start to feel the butterflies in your stomach:

Warming up

If you’re nervous, chances are your body will feel the same way. Your body gets tense, your muscles feel tight or you’re breaking in cold sweat. The audience will notice you are nervous.

If you observe that this is exactly what is happening to you minutes before a speech, do a couple of stretches to loosen and relax your body. It’s better to warm up before every speech as it helps to increase the functional potential of the body as a whole. Not only that, it increases muscle efficiency, improves reaction time and your movements.

Here are some exercises to loosen up your body before show time:

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  1. Neck and shoulder rolls – This helps relieve upper body muscle tension and pressure as the rolls focus on rotating the head and shoulders, loosening the muscle. Stress and anxiety can make us rigid within this area which can make you feel agitated, especially when standing.
  2. Arm stretches – We often use this part of our muscles during a speech or presentation through our hand gestures and movements. Stretching these muscles can reduce arm fatigue, loosen you up and improve your body language range.
  3. Waist twists – Place your hands on your hips and rotate your waist in a circular motion. This exercise focuses on loosening the abdominal and lower back regions which is essential as it can cause discomfort and pain, further amplifying any anxieties you may experience.

Stay hydrated

Ever felt parched seconds before speaking? And then coming up on stage sounding raspy and scratchy in front of the audience? This happens because the adrenaline from stage fright causes your mouth to feel dried out.

To prevent all that, it’s essential we stay adequately hydrated before a speech. A sip of water will do the trick. However, do drink in moderation so that you won’t need to go to the bathroom constantly.

Try to avoid sugary beverages and caffeine, since it’s a diuretic – meaning you’ll feel thirstier. It will also amplify your anxiety which prevents you from speaking smoothly.

Meditate

Meditation is well-known as a powerful tool to calm the mind. ABC’s Dan Harris, co-anchor of Nightline and Good Morning America weekend and author of the book titled10% Happier , recommends that meditation can help individuals to feel significantly calmer, faster.

Meditation is like a workout for your mind. It gives you the strength and focus to filter out the negativity and distractions with words of encouragement, confidence and strength.

Mindfulness meditation, in particular, is a popular method to calm yourself before going up on the big stage. The practice involves sitting comfortably, focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future – which likely includes floundering on stage.

Here’s a nice example of guided meditation before public speaking:

2. Focus on your goal

One thing people with a fear of public speaking have in common is focusing too much on themselves and the possibility of failure.

Do I look funny? What if I can’t remember what to say? Do I look stupid? Will people listen to me? Does anyone care about what I’m talking about?’

Instead of thinking this way, shift your attention to your one true purpose – contributing something of value to your audience.

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Decide on the progress you’d like your audience to make after your presentation. Notice their movements and expressions to adapt your speech to ensure that they are having a good time to leave the room as better people.

If your own focus isn’t beneficial and what it should be when you’re speaking, then shift it to what does. This is also key to establishing trust during your presentation as the audience can clearly see that you have their interests at heart.[1]

3. Convert negativity to positivity

There are two sides constantly battling inside of us – one is filled with strength and courage while the other is doubt and insecurities. Which one will you feed?

‘What if I mess up this speech? What if I’m not funny enough? What if I forget what to say?’

It’s no wonder why many of us are uncomfortable giving a presentation. All we do is bring ourselves down before we got a chance to prove ourselves. This is also known as a self-fulfilling prophecy – a belief that comes true because we are acting as if it already is. If you think you’re incompetent, then it will eventually become true.

Motivational coaches tout that positive mantras and affirmations tend to boost your confidents for the moments that matter most. Say to yourself: “I’ll ace this speech and I can do it!”

Take advantage of your adrenaline rush to encourage positive outcome rather than thinking of the negative ‘what ifs’.

Here’s a video of Psychologist Kelly McGonigal who encourages her audience to turn stress into something positive as well as provide methods on how to cope with it:

4. Understand your content

Knowing your content at your fingertips helps reduce your anxiety because there is one less thing to worry about. One way to get there is to practice numerous times before your actual speech.

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However, memorizing your script word-for-word is not encouraged. You can end up freezing should you forget something. You’ll also risk sounding unnatural and less approachable.

“No amount of reading or memorizing will make you successful in life. It is the understanding and the application of wise thought that counts.” – Bob Proctor

Many people unconsciously make the mistake of reading from their slides or memorizing their script word-for-word without understanding their content – a definite way to stress themselves out.

Understanding your speech flow and content makes it easier for you to convert ideas and concepts into your own words which you can then clearly explain to others in a conversational manner. Designing your slides to include text prompts is also an easy hack to ensure you get to quickly recall your flow when your mind goes blank.[2]

One way to understand is to memorize the over-arching concepts or ideas in your pitch. It helps you speak more naturally and let your personality shine through. It’s almost like taking your audience on a journey with a few key milestones.

5. Practice makes perfect

Like most people, many of us are not naturally attuned to public speaking. Rarely do individuals walk up to a large audience and present flawlessly without any research and preparation.

In fact, some of the top presenters make it look easy during showtime because they have spent countless hours behind-the-scenes in deep practice. Even great speakers like the late John F. Kennedy would spend months preparing his speech beforehand.

Public speaking, like any other skill, requires practice – whether it be practicing your speech countless of times in front of a mirror or making notes. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

6. Be authentic

There’s nothing wrong with feeling stressed before going up to speak in front of an audience.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear others will judge them for showing their true, vulnerable self. However, vulnerability can sometimes help you come across as more authentic and relatable as a speaker.

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Drop the pretence of trying to act or speak like someone else and you’ll find that it’s worth the risk. You become more genuine, flexible and spontaneous, which makes it easier to handle unpredictable situations – whether it’s getting tough questions from the crowd or experiencing an unexpected technical difficulty.

To find out your authentic style of speaking is easy. Just pick a topic or issue you are passionate about and discuss this like you normally would with a close family or friend. It is like having a conversation with someone in a personal one-to-one setting. A great way to do this on stage is to select a random audience member(with a hopefully calming face) and speak to a single person at a time during your speech. You’ll find that it’s easier trying to connect to one person at a time than a whole room.

With that said, being comfortable enough to be yourself in front of others may take a little time and some experience, depending how comfortable you are with being yourself in front of others. But once you embrace it, stage fright will not be as intimidating as you initially thought.

Presenters like Barack Obama are a prime example of a genuine and passionate speaker:

7. Post speech evaluation

Last but not the least, if you’ve done public speaking and have been scarred from a bad experience, try seeing it as a lesson learned to improve yourself as a speaker.

Don’t beat yourself up after a presentation

We are the hardest on ourselves and it’s good to be. But when you finish delivering your speech or presentation, give yourself some recognition and a pat on the back.

You managed to finish whatever you had to do and did not give up. You did not let your fears and insecurities get to you. Take a little more pride in your work and believe in yourself.

Improve your next speech

As mentioned before, practice does make perfect. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, try asking someone to film you during a speech or presentation. Afterwards, watch and observe what you can do to improve yourself next time.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself after every speech:

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  • How did I do?
  • Are there any areas for improvement?
  • Did I sound or look stressed?
  • Did I stumble on my words? Why?
  • Was I saying “um” too often?
  • How was the flow of the speech?

Write everything you observed down and keep practicing and improving. In time, you’ll be able to better manage your fears of public speaking and appear more confident when it counts.

If you want even more tips about public speaking or delivering a great presentation, check out these articles too:

Reference

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