I start all my business communication classes by forcing the students to stand and engage in a few minutes of small talk. It’s an important skill and an increasingly lost one, so I give them different scenarios and require them to do introductions or chat with each other.

Even though they are adults, many struggle with this exercise. To help them, I encourage them to frame the conversation like a friendly tennis match (or maybe these days I should say pickleball?!). You make a comment (lobbing the “ball” to the other person) and they build off that comment (and lob it back). If you don’t include a hook or enough information for them to build on, the other person has to “serve” up a new ball and try to start the conversation that way. In other words, if I introduce you by saying “This is Chris,” and leave it at that, there is nothing to keep the conversation going. It’s much stronger if I say “This is Chris; they also have golden retrievers.”

Some of my students end up with a pile of “balls” at their feet — answering all the questions but never asking them in return. Others get a pretty extensive volley going between them and become deeply engaged. Either way, it’s a helpful mental exercise to ensure you are a contributor in the informal chatting.

1 comment

  1. I was asked to provide some examples — here are some suggestions:

    They are at a conference so these are peers from across the country/company (so have something in common)
    They are at a social cocktail reception for a nonprofit (so have different employers)
    They are meeting a new employee for the first time
    Doing introductions in triads: a boss introducing the new employee to the “big boss”
    Meeting a friend of their parents
    At a networking event where they may want to gain contacts/business
    Greeting a customer
    Greeting a sales rep
    Greeting someone from out of town
    Meeting their child’s teacher

    In addition I:
    Talk about doing introductions (“lesser-ranking introduced to higher ranking person first)
    Have them assume different personas so small classes can keep doing introductions when they already “know” the other students
    Quiz them afterwards re remembering names
    Talk about pronouns
    And the last night of class, I do a “mini-reception” with Cheetos and plastic wine glasses with non-alcoholic cider and water — glasses & plates from dollar store — and they have to practice all this while juggling food and drink

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: