A small talk tip no one will teach you

Small talk. It’s one of the worst parts about networking -- or even talking to a co-worker in the elevator -- but if you can perfect it you can leave a positive, lasting impression on every single person you meet, every single day.

Here’s what no one teaches you about small talk: Share your personality, don’t hide it behind a mundane sentence. Say what’s on your mind not just what you think you “should” say.

I once worked with Doug. Doug was--and still is--fascinating. Every time he answered the phone he said something unpredictable. He never once answered the question “How are you?” with “Fine, you?” He said things like “I’m loving the new orange shirt I’m wearing, which is surprising because I never thought orange was my colour but now I’m wondering if I might also look good in green.”

I don’t know what university degree Doug has, or all of the jobs he’s ever held, but I do know this: when I had to hire an instructor for one of my courses, I asked Doug. When Doug announced he was launching a travel e-newsletter (his passion project), I signed up for a subscription immediately. When I worked with Doug, and he told me I needed to rewrite a story in half an hour, I did it because I wanted Doug to want to work with me. If Doug called me tomorrow and told me he wanted to hire me to be a juggler in the circus business he’d just launched, I would watch a Masterclass on juggling and tell Doug I’d be ready to go in the morning. I envy Doug because I wish I were more like Doug.

I want you to be Doug. I want people to want to work with you. That way, when you have no idea how to juggle, they’ll probably hire you anyway and hook you up with someone who can teach you. That’s called “learning on the job.” (I don’t recommend this advice if you’re looking to be an open-heart surgeon without a medical degree, just to be clear.)

Here’s another person I want to work with: my former student Gina. On the first day of class, I asked all the students to tell me something fascinating about themselves. Gina stood up and announced that she’s a mushroom hunter. What’s a mushroom hunter, you ask? It’s a person who tramps around the woods, scanning the ground for interesting mushrooms. She does this with her dad. It’s their thing.

Every single time someone asks me if I can recommend someone else for a job, you know who I think of first? Gina. People want to help passionate, interesting people. Be interesting. Be memorable. Be Gina.

CareerChantel Guertin