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If it were up to me, there would be no “small talk”. There would be no need for idle conversation or chit chat.

And, everyone would be on time for every meeting.

I suppose that small talk is here to stay.

While we always need to steer the conversation back to our intended goal and be mindful of everyone’s time (especially the clients’), some situations require small talk to either get the conversation started or fill the time before everyone arrives.

The truth is, without well intended “ice breakers”, you’d come across as very rude – and cold.

“Small talk” conversations are conveniently bucketed into subject matters that you can find on the menu bar of any online news publication:

NEWS * WEATHER * SPORTS * ENTERTAINMENT * POLITICS * BUSINESS * TRAVEL * OPINION

There are rules …

  1. Remove POLITICS and OPINION from the list. And, if you ever have to respond to someone else’s comments – deflect.
  2. Don’t take your NEWS from the front page. It is littered with tragedy, emotionally–charged issues and hot button topics. It is a very short step from the front page to Rule #1.
  3. Never lead with how terribly COLD the WEATHER is outside to anyone from a location that’s historically colder than yours is. THEY DON’T WANT TO HEAR IT!!!
  4. It’s okay to share which SPORTS team(s) you support during “small talk” — but revealing ALL of your team logo tattoos is a BIG No-No.
  5. Remember “small talk” is still a conversation. Start with a question and empower your client to take the lead. Then treat the dialogue with the same attention and care as you would the final sticking points of a contract negotiation.

But what’s the ‘right’ amount of “small talk”?

I like to use this analogy to help gauge the right dosage of small talk at the beginning of sales meetings. Please feel free to use this as a barometer for your own benefit.

When we go out, my wife often orders a club soda ‘with just a splash of cranberry’. Many in the service industry have failed in their first attempt to properly add the right quantity of fruit flavoring to her liking. In most instances, they’ve added too much fruit juice. To her taste, a splash is just the slightest hint of cranberry. In fact, to the naked eye, it’s difficult to detect if there is ANY cranberry juice at all.

The reality is, you can always add more – but never take any away.

There should be just a splash of small talk at the beginning of your sales meetings. Enough to provide a little flavor to the conversation but not too much as to dilute and over power the entire purpose of the meeting.

Once you’ve addressed and accomplished the objective of your meeting you can always re-engage in an interesting topic from earlier – and plant the seeds for a personal connection the next time you meet.

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Lou Diamond is the Founder & CEO of Thrive – a leading consulting and coaching company helping the best people and companies become even more amazing. He is also the author of the newly released international best-selling book “Master the Art of Connecting“.