The only icebreaker you’ll ever need

As we enter the holiday season, it usually means chit chat with clients at lunches, parties, and this year, videoconferencing breakout sessions. According to Betsy Mikel of Priority Management, a worldwide training company that helps executives manage their time, you make small talk more bearable with three easy steps.

1. An icebreaker that works in every situation

There’s one icebreaker question that’ll work every single time. It comes from Terry Gross, who is a legendary interviewer. As the host of NPR’s Fresh Air, Gross has conducted thousands of interviews. And she’s been doing it for over 40 years. From political figures to pop culture icons, Gross can start a great conversation with absolutely anyone.

She tells the New York Times this is the only icebreaker you need: Tell me about yourself. This is much more effective than the dreaded, “So what do you do?”.

Here’s why. Gross said these four words are more likely to lead to a genuinely interesting conversation because “it allows you to start a conversation without the fear that you’re going to inadvertently make someone uncomfortable or self-conscious. Posing a broad question lets people lead you to who they are.”

2. Stay curious and engaged

After you get past the initial breaking of ice, your next move is equally as important. You have to really listen to how the other person responds and care what they have to say. Don’t instantly zone out. Don’t drain your drink so you can quickly exit the conversation. Tune in to what they’re excited about. Build upon it. Ask them more questions about that thing.

Gross says having a good conversation comes down to curiosity. You need to want to hear what the other person has to say. Bringing enthusiasm and energy to the conversation will go a long way.

And you’ve heard it before, but Gross wants you to hear it again. Body language, people. Pay attention to body language. If you’re paying attention, you can tell if someone’s interest is waning. Even if you’re excited about a certain topic, the other person might not be. Body language like eyes wandering, crossed arms, or turning away from you signals boredom.

3. Exit gracefully

Not every conversation will be a slam dunk. Inevitably, you’re going to get a dud. Or, you just run out of things to talk about. Gross has one last trick for you (which isn’t really a trick at all). Be honest. Say you’ve got to go — to the bar, to the bathroom, to say hi to your friend across the room. Then go.

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    Meet Greg Graham, Certified Management Consultant

    Market Metrics Inc. helps knowledge-based businesses with strategy, planning and innovation, and was founded in 2003 by Greg Graham, a seasoned marketing professional.

    Greg is a Certified Management Consultant (CMC), a Fellow of the Ontario Institute of Management Consultants (FCMC), an Accredited Small Business Consultant (ASMEC) in the United States, a member of the American Marketing Association, and holds MBA/BEE degrees plus a Certificate in Strategic Management.

    Prior to founding Market Metrics, his 21 years of corporate experience encompassed tech start-ups through Fortune 500 companies.

    Greg frequently performs consulting engagements on behalf of the Government of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP).