While I believe small talk is BIG, non-verbal communication is small-talk's best friend. As the saying goes: "Actions speak louder than words." And it's a saying that rings true.
No matter how savvy a small-talker, or how confidant a conversationalist might be, without making a first impression the dialogue is probably doomed.
Here are Eight Great Ways To Make Good Conversation Without Saying A Word:
1. Master the Handshake:
The last blog I posted was on this very topic, and for good reason: the handshake is key to making a positive first impression. Read my tips and tricks for perfecting this universal greeting.
2. Perfect Your Posture:
Your mother was right; you (and me, and the world) need to stand up straight. By perfecting your posture you exude a level of confidence and poise that, pardon the pun, goes without saying. Elongate your neck, square your shoulders, raise your chin and look forward. Can't remember all of that? Imagine a string tied to the top of your head, pulling you up. Or, as a colleague once told me: Pretend you are tucking your shoulders into your back pocket.
3. Uncross Your Arms:
Crossed arms is truly a habit, especially for those of us who are constantly cold or don't know what to do with our hands. But even if your crossed arms are not meant to be a signal to others, they are: crossed arms make you appear cold, closed-off, or aggravated. Make a conscious effort to keep yourself open and engaged by lightly folding your hands in your lap, holding a pen (no clicking!) or hold them behind your back.
4. Get Rid of The Gum:
For real. Get rid of it, preferably before you enter a room. If you forget, swallow it (you won't die -- promise) or excuse yourself to dispose of it. Have you ever seen Margaret Thatcher chew gum? Have you seen Britney Spears chew gum? Enough said.
5. Make Eye Contact:
Look people in the eye when speaking to them or when they are speaking to you. If you are truly listening, this comes naturally. If you feel uncomfortable, focus on one eye -- darting back and forth might make the other person feel wary while it might make you look like you are having a mini-stroke. Both of these are no good. When you do look away, look towards the left or the right instead of looking down. Looking down makes you look nervous and guilty. Looking up makes you look like you are conversing with dead people.
6. Minimize Your Movements:
People in power positions don't make grand gestures with their hands (think back to the Margaret Thatcher/Britney Spears example here); instead they use small, subtle movements to convey their thoughts.
7. Mirror Your Mate:
If you witness a great conversation in action, you will undoubtedly notice that both parties seem to be mimicking each other, also known as mirroring. Each person is leaning in, nodding, smiling. Consider your conversation partner to be a dance partner, and follow his or her lead.
8. Silence the Sarcasm - And the Smartphone:
Yes, you can be sarcastic without uttering a word. Eye-rolls, huffing, fidgeting, and raised eyebrows scream to the other person that you don't value their thoughts or words. If, in fact, you DON'T value the other persons thoughts or words, be kind enough to say that directly in a non-threatening way ("I understand what you are saying, Bob, but I disagree with the idea for this reason...") instead of pouting like a petulant child. And ditch the smartphone. Unless your wife is in labor or you are waiting to find out if you were elected president of the United States, you can afford to put the phone away. Not under the table for secret texting, mind you, but away. In your pocket, your purse or your briefcase. You know, where you keep the gum.
No matter what, always wear a smile - it truly is the universal language.