Every once in a while during the last two years I'd search for a class on small talk. I didn't find anything. Then this spring the local continuing education center had a class called "how to schmooze", I figured it was close enough so I signed up for this two night class.
Even though I've worked with clients for the last 7 years and have a lot of customer service going back 15+ years, I have a really hard time with talk about nothing. I usually talk with a purpose whether I want to know something or if I am sharing a specific piece of information. Talking about nothing is really hard for me. My mom and two of my sisters have this skill, but my father, a sister and I do not.
This class was more business oriented, which I was fine with since I want this skill for work. When I have cocktail receptions and dinners with the volunteers I am with them for hours and I struggle with how to start a conversation that isn't work related. Unfortunately the class was more networking like - how to work the room, how to join the circle, etc.
The teacher provided some articles, books and some websites with tips...but honestly I know the best practices, I've read all about them...I wanted help how to DO them. There was some 'public speaking' as we all had to get up in front of the class and speak, and I am 95% fine with that...my issue isn't speaking; I am fine speaking about things I am knowledgeable about. The teacher and a few of the participants came up to me and said they were surprised I felt I needed to attend the class, I come across and not having an 'issue'.
So, I guess it is good that I don't project that shy timid persona. And maybe this class wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but it gave me a few good tips, although I don't know how practical some of them are in real life situations.
But I do have a problem; I cannot maintain a conversation that either I don't really care one inkling about or after someone asks me a question, and I answer with a very brief succinct answer, I can't keep it going - I don't ask followup questions and I don't elaborate. Sometimes I can't think that fast other times I really don't know where to start, or I don't even know what kind of question to ask. I don't come across as a bitch, I am super sweet and I smile a lot and seem interested. I wonder if my problem is because I don't tell stories, I don't have too many, and I can't tell a story and be brief & funny or interesting.
It is something I know is a problem area for me, and I am working on it. I don't think it will hold me back professionally since I've pulled it off this far, but I want to be better and that will allow me to grow professionally and do better in the long run.
Anyway, after the first class, we had homework - to talk to strangers every day, start a conversation UGH, that is like the worst ever homework assignment...but what did I expect? I carried a small notebook to record my at least once a day encounter. But I really didn't start a conversation until one night I went on a 'date' and after dinner we sat at the bar and had a few drinks. The guy's friend ended up coming in with his female friend and I struggled chatting with them, but I was fine with the 'date'. I was watching a March Madness game and was all of a sudden distracted by this smell of food. I told the 'date' that it smelled delicious and continued to watch the game and try to talk to my group. But that smell just lingered in the air. I turned to the the person to my left and said, "Your dinner smells so delicious". He told me what he was eating and said he got it every time he went there....then he offered me to eat off his plate to try it! How nice, but hmm, he is a complete stranger. Is this what it is like to talk to strangers? I am not sure I am comfortable with that.