Locubrevisphobia: Fear of Small Talk

From the first chapter of Small Talk Big Results: Chit Chat Your Way to Success!

Locubrevisphobia (n.)  A pathological fear of making small talk, often resulting in the sufferer avoiding social and networking events [from Latin “locu,” speak,  and “brevis,” short + phobia].

OK. I made that up. But many people do have fears that hold them back from making small talk.

Let’s take a look at the four most common fears that hold people back.

1. Fear of the unknown. When I was little, my mom said, “Don’t talk to strangers!”  For some people, that childhood fear of strangers persists into adulthood.

 Attitude Booster: Act like a host, not a guest.

You are at a business networking event and have done your reconnaissance—checked out who is there and identified potential conversation partners.  You’re ready to make your move, but there is that twinge of nervousness. Are you nervous about introducing yourself to total strangers?

Consider a different scenario for the next networking event you attend. Think of yourself as an event’s host and not its guest.

As a host, you would introduce yourself to people you don’t know and introduce them to others. Wouldn’t you tell them where to find the food and drinks? Wouldn’t you introduce people as they arrive?  A host has an active role as opposed to the passive role of a guest. You can play the role of the host even though you are not the actual host. Get in the habit of holding out your hand first and saying, “Hi, my name is ____________.”

2. Fear of rejection. Anytime you open your mouth and speak, even just to chit chat, you risk rejection. If you never talk to people, you won’t be rejected. But guess what? If you never talk to people, you will also be very lonely.

The best way I’ve found to overcome the fear of rejection is to focus on how I feel when I am accepted. It’s a great feeling and it’s worth risking rejection.

Attitude Booster: Recall the beginnings of your important relationships.

Ask yourself: what do I have to lose? Nothing! What do I have to gain? Possibly everything! Think back to when you first met your spouse or another important person in your life. How did it all start? You probably started with small talk.

I remember when my husband and I met. I was 17 and at my first beer-kegger party. As neither he nor I drink beer, I suppose it was fate that the only two sober people there would strike up a conversation. We were both geeky types, so our geeky small talk worked out just fine. More than 30 years later we are still together.

3. Fear of being a bore. You know what it’s like to hear someone drone on and on, so you don’t want to be the person others want to escape!

Attitude Booster: If you are afraid of being a bore, you probably won’t be one.

There is a simple solution, too. As long as the other person is talking, they are NOT bored! By encouraging them to talk, you become the most fascinating conversationalist they’ve ever talked to.

4. Fear of looking stupid. You are afraid that if you open your mouth, you will insert your foot. Or, maybe you won’t know what to say.

Attitude Booster: This fear is bigger in your mind than in reality!

It just doesn’t happen that often. But if it does, an effective technique is to make fun of yourself. If you can make fun of yourself, you will put others at ease. This fear is easily overcome with practice and preparation.

Have you ever suffered from locubrevisphobia?  What has helped you overcome your fear of small talk?

Brush up your small talk and networking skills by getting the book!

Tell Me More! Engagement through Self-Disclosure

Do you want more engaged customers? Clients? Employees? Team members?

One effective method is to get them talking about themselves!

Recent research has confirmed what all great conversationalists already know: people like to talk about themselves.

Talking about oneself, which is 30-40% of what most people talk about (and a whopping 80% of posts to social media sites), activates areas of the brain associated with pleasure and is so intrinsically rewarding that people are willing to forgo monetary rewards for talking about others or talking about facts so that they can talk about themselves. People like to self-disclose and “get naked,” conversationally.

If you can get people talking about themselves, they will be more engaged.  People are always engaged when they do something that brings them pleasure.

Here are basic steps to encouraging self-disclosure and increasing engagement:

1. Provide a safe, non-threatening environment.  This might mean getting away from the office or away from certain people.  This also means talking without time-pressure.  If someone has a deadline approaching, they go into survival mode and are less willing to self-disclose.

2. Commit to listening more than talking, generally.  

3. Climb the self-disclosure ladder by self-disclosing a little bit about yourself.  Sharing a little bit about yourself can encourage the other person to share about themselves.

For example, in talking with people lower on the org chart, open up about some of your failures to show that you aren’t perfect and don’t expect others to be perfect.  The more your self-disclosure can make you seem similar to the person you are talking with, the more likely is it that they will in turn self-disclose.

3. Use open body language.  Smile warmly and then keep a pleasant, interested expression when the other person talks.  Lean in a little. Nod to let them see you “get” what they are saying.

4. Entice with conversation that encourages people to talk:

  • Ask open-ended questions (questions that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no.”)
  • Use phrases that prompt people to self-disclose (Tell me about . . .)
  • Keep it simple!  Don’t be too complicated in your word choices or sentence structure.  Complexity leads to confusion.  Confusion can lead to reduced willingness to take risks.  And, as much as we all like it, self-disclosure can be risky
  • Be a reflective listener.  Don’t just listen, but respond to let others know that you heard them by repeating, summarizing and asking clarifying questions.  “So, what I think you mean is . . .”  Also, listen for keywords that you can repeat to move the conversation forward.


John:  I’m not sure I’m qualified to lead this project

Tim:  You don’t think you’re qualified?

John:  Well, I don’t think I have the technical background that is needed.

Tim:  Tell me what kind of technical background you think is needed.

While, you don’t want to get uncomfortably personal, if you climb the ladder to increasing self-disclosure, not only will it actually be pleasurable, but it will engage.

Have you found other ways to encourage self-disclosure?

4 Tips for Overcoming Networking Nervousness

Focus on What You WantHave you ever been nervous about attending a networking event?  Here are 4 tips on overcoming the fear of rejection or of being judged:

1. Focus on What you Want.  I think the number one thing you can do is to focus on what you want, not on what you don’t want. If you focus on the outcome you desire, or on the relationships you want to develop instead of what could go wrong, you will approach networking events with a positive mindset.

It’s very easy to let your fear grow to Goliath proportions.  But just like David slew Goliath with small stones from a sling shot, you can shoot down your fears with small and simple steps.

2.  Face the Fear.  Realizing that it is very hard not to focus on what might go wrong, at times I allow myself  to focus on the fear just long enough to deal with it.  I like to play the “Worst Case Scenario” game when it comes to possible negative outcomes.  What is the worst case scenario that could happen in being judged or rejected at a networking event?  Is the other person likely to throw a punch at you?  No.  Is your life in danger?  No.  Are they even likely to laugh at you?  Probably not.  In reality, the fear is of saying something wrong–something stupid or offensive.  Right?  So, ask yourself, “What is the worst that can happen if I say something stupid?”  Probably the worst thing that can happen is that the other person may judge you based on that one interaction and you won’t do business with them.  Is that OK with you?  Is it OK that you don’t do business with everyone you meet?

Then, depending on what your worst case scenario is, you can even have a plan for how to handle it.  For example, I still struggle with remembering people’s names.  My worst case scenario is running into someone whose name I should know, but I can’t recall.  I actually have a few different plans for handling that situation.  But, my fall back is to simply admit it.  I just face the fear, plan for how to deal with it and move on.   Just mentally deal with it and get over it.

3. Give a Gift.  What I mean by “give a gift” is to believe that you have something of great value to offer.  A gift.  If you don’t already believe this, then you need to spend some time developing your own list of advantages and benefits.  When you believe that you have something of great value to offer, you get the same feeling that you have when you give someone a gift that is the perfect gift.  You get excited to give it.  You focus more on the other person and less on yourself.  Fear is very inward-looking.  Focus outward by focusing on the other person and what you have to offer.  Give a gift.

4. Find Friends. Consider strangers as friends you haven’t met yet.  Think about it.  Aside from blood-relatives, all the important people in your life–your spouse, your best friend, your current business associates–they were all strangers at one time.

One thing I sometimes do as I enter a room full of strangers is to pause, look around at the people, and imagine that they are already my good friends that I haven’t seen in ages.  I think to myself, “Hello, old friends.” And, these “old friends” probably have their own fears of rejection, too!  You can focus on helping them feel comfortable–that’s something you’d do for a friend!

Focus on what you want.  Face the fear.  Give a gift.  Find some friends.

Do you have some tips for reducing nervousness?

Are You Wasting Your Time at Networking Events?

Yesterday, I went to my first speed networking event.  Speed networking is like speed dating for business.  In the course of less than an hour, I had brief conversations with about a dozen people, all small business owners who sold products or services to either customers  or to other small- to medium-sized businesses.

I found it  exhilarating, efficient, and enlightening.    It was exhilarating because we only had 4 minutes to chat before switching to a new conversation partner.  It was efficient because 4 minutes was enough time to determine if there was a likely reason to follow up (strategic partner or referral source).  With the facilitator forcing us to switch, there was no need to have an “exit” plan to move onto another person.  It was enlightening because I realized that the people attending this networking event, like most small business networking events, were neither my target market (for professional speaking and executive presentation coaching) nor were they likely to be either strategic partners or referral partners.  To take a negative view, I probably wasted my time.

But I prefer a positive take!  In traditional networking mixers, I spend much more than 4 minutes with people.  I love getting to know people, whether or not we might build a business relationship.  Everyone has a story and I love hearing their story and connecting with them.  Talking with new people is a lot of fun for me–chit chat is like cat nip to my soul.  The fun of chit chat often dulls my realization that certain conversations will likely be non-productive business-wise.  Not so with speed-networking.  There was no time for chit chat, so the lack of a real business reason to follow up was painfully clear.

However, I don’t think I wasted my time because  I learned a valuable lesson that was obscured for me in traditional networking mixers: Focus your networking and connection-building with your Target Clients or Targeted Strategic and Referral Partners.   Don’t just fill your calendar with networking events.  Select your events mindfully.  Ask yourself this question before attending a networking event:  Will Target Clients, Strategic Partners or Referral Partners likely be there? 

If not, maybe you are wasting your time.

7 Tips to Authentic Networking, Genuine Results

 I’m tired of going to networking events and having people vomit out their elevator speech, or pass out business cards like a black jack dealer.  What a waste of time!  Do you want to create authentic, lasting relationships that yield genuine results?

1. Listen more than you talk. You already know this, but are you doing this effectively?  The secret is to ask open-ended questions (questions that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no”), reflect on the answers and make follow up comments or questions to clarify your understanding.  Listen for “pain points” and then,

2. Find a way to offer help. Become known as a “go-to” person.  Be the one that has the resources and knows the people who can help.  Follow up on conversations with emails that offer information related to your conversation.

3. Don’t give someone your business card unless they ask.   When it comes to business cards, it is better to receive than give.  If you give someone your card, you have given them all the power.  You want to get their card.  Ask if it is OK for you to follow up, connect on LinkedIn, etc.

4.  Don’t use an elevator speech.  Prepared 30  or 60 second commercials may be fine for formal networking events where they are expected, but they fall flat in one-on-one conversation.  Nobody wants to be pitched the moment they meet someone.  Wait until  someone asks “What do you do?” or shows some interest and then have a “bumper-sticker” version of your elevator speech, of about 12 words or fewer that leaves the listener wanting more.   Perhaps have more than one “bumper-sticker” to apply to different types of people.  Let’s say you sell jewelry.  If you are talking to a busy-budget minded mom, you might say, “I sell affordable, classic jewelry that can be both casual and dressy.”  If you are talking to a corporate executive (a guy who might need some gift ideas for wife or daughter), you might say, “I sell unique, investment-quality jewelry that says ‘I’m worth it.’”

5.  Use storytelling.  Everybody loves a good story, as long as it is relevant to the conversation.  Stories connect with people on an emotional level and have the added bonus of being memorable.  If you want people to remember you and remember your message (or product/service), tell a story.  For example, again using jewelry,  you could tell a story about a custom piece that you made for a customer.  Why did they want it?  How do they enjoy it?

6.  Use self-disclosure.  Now, I’m not talking about getting uncomfortably personal.  But all too often I see networking newbies follow the advice of “ask questions” and take it to the extreme.  They ask so many questions, that the other person never discovers anything about them.  A one-sided relationship isn’t a relationship.  Go ahead and ask questions, but reflect on the answers and provide some personal input.  Let the other person know that you have faced similar challenges or had similar failings and you will build a common bond.  People like other people who seem like themselves.    You can also use a tiny bit of self-disclosure when you ask questions.  See #7

 7. Break the Ice by warming up your questions.  Make an observational comment about something you both experience.  Follow that with a transitional comment that reveals a tidbit of information about yourself and then ask an open-ended question.

Example: A networking event

1.  Observation comment: “I notice you have an iPhone.”

2.  Personal tidbit:  “I’ve been using a Blackberry for years, but I’m considering an iPhone.”

3.  Question:  “What do you like about the iPhone?”

What are some ways that have worked for you to make authentic connections when networking?


Jill Konrath “Selling to Bigger Companies”

Do your voice mails to potential customers or clients start something like this?

Hi, this is Diane Windingland with Small Talk, Big Results.  I work with organizations . . .


OK, you don’t hear the “DELETE,” but according to sales expert, Jill Konrath, that’s what happens when you start to use words that explain your business.

If you want to connect with potential customers, you need to get rid of the “salesy part” of your calls, voice mail and emails.  You need to be vigilant in eliminating “delete triggers.” Read more of this post

How to Start a Conversation with Someone You Don’t Know at a Networking Event

Have you ever gone to a networking event with the best of intentions of making new contacts and then found yourself talking to people you already know?  Or, maybe you just grab some food and head off to your seat to listen to the speaker?  Later, you start to think that networking events are just a big waste of time, so you stop going.

If that is what you are doing at networking events, then you are right.

The hardest part of attending a networking event is . . . networking!  In order to network, the first step is being able to start a conversation.

A couple days ago, I gave a presentation to the Women of Wealth Networking Group in Cottage Grove, MN.  Although, the main part of my presentation is on business storytelling, they wanted some networking tips on talking with people they didn’t know for an upcoming joint event.  So,  I made a chart “How to Start a Conversation with Someone You Don’t Know at a Networking Event” which summarizes some of the tips in my book, Small Talk Big Results:  Chit Chat Your Way to Success!

Networking Tips from Small Talk Big Results!

A few notes:

Pre-event preparation can give you a lot to talk about!  Try to find out who is going and do a little research on key people or businesses.  Also, don’t get too worked up over your “elevator speech.”  Try for a very short statement (if you have a tag line, you can modify that).  For example, I might use my tag line and say “I help people chit chat their way to success” to briefly explain what I do.  I might then ask the other person what they do.  And we can have a back-and-forth conversation rather than a monologue.

Being NOSE-y is all about an attitude of friendly interest.  Be someone who people aren’t afraid to approach and maintain friendly interest during conversation.  If you are a little introverted, you can use your body language to do the talking along with a few open-ended questions and keep a conversation going for quite a while.  About smiling–I don’t mean a goofy smile, but a generally pleasant expression, maybe with a hint of intrigue (e.g. a “Mona Lisa” smile).  A neutral expression almost always looks more negative than neutral.

See and Say.  The very simplest opening lines (icebreakers) involve observing something you both can see (food, attire, weather) and then saying something about it!  This comment does not have to be profound–it just gets the conversation going.  If you can comment on something that will tie in to something you both have in common, all the better.  People tend to like people who are like themselves.  Also, consider your tone of voice (keep it friendly).  In addition to body language, tone of voice contributes much to perceived meaning.

The 4-Step Hello.  Often “see and say” seems more casual–you say something before you actually introduce yourself and add, “Oh, by the way, I’m . . .”  However, you can introduce yourself first, if nothing else comes to mind or if it seems to make sense to introduce yourself first.  One important note is to make eye contact before you break into a bigger smile (assuming you have kept up your “Mona Lisa” smile) .  Making eye contact and then widening your smile gives a “you’re special” message.  It is a very appealing way to connect.

F.O.R.M. your contacts.  It’s just a way to organize questions, until you can internalize what kinds of questions to ask.  In most business situations, I’d start out with the occupation questions first.

Do you have any additional tips on starting conversations?