I'm pleased to welcome author and educator Jen Oleniczak Brown to the blog today to impart some very important and super helpful tips on small talk. Us writers are notorious for sucking at face-to-face communicating and pitching our projects orally, and so hopefully you'll gain some insight into how to be calm and approach this part of the job with focus. Enjoy!
Jen Oleniczak Brown is the Founder of The Engaging Educator (EE), a women-owned and operated company dedicated to helping people find their unapologetic, authentic and best voice, communication style and self through improv-based education. Since 2012, EE has served over 50,000 students, working with such companies as Viacom, Food Network, The New York Times, Saks Fifth Avenue and CBS. EE is based out of NYC, LA, SF and Winston Salem, NC.
Jen’s latest book, Think on Your Feet: Tips and Tricks to Improve Your Impromptu Communication Skills on the Job (McGraw Hill Education, November, 2019) is one of Inc Magazines “20 Books That Will Kick Off 2020 on the Right Foot” and has been called “a helpful maven’s guide ideal for anyone who views a podium with fear and trembling” by Publishers Weekly. She lives in Winston Salem, NC with her husband, their two dogs Drumstick and Pickle, and over four-dozen houseplants.
Making Effective Small Talk About Your Project
ALL THE DANCE PARTIES! You are SO excited – you have a new project.
Maybe you just started a proposal – CONGRATS!
Or signed with an agent or publisher – BIG NEWS!
Your book is out – CELEBRATE!
You set up a call with an agent or publisher for the first time – WOO!
Now comes your hard part – how can you make small talk about this very exciting thing, either in the moment with this very exciting person or when you’re talking to other humans?
First, take a breath and focus on how exciting this is! Small talk can stress a lot of people out because it’s often seen as shallow, awkward and disconnected. Think about it - how do you feel about small talk? Are you excited? Nervous? Worried about being interesting enough?
Your small talk does not need to cause emotional stress! You can have a valuable and connected conversation that doesn’t just feel like regretful word vomit with a few quick mind shifts about your before, during and after:
Before your conversation:
Think about your audience
This is not only critical but often overlooked. Consider your audience first! Who are they, what is your relationship to them, what do they want, what do you want – and don’t worry about overthinking this, just think about a few points. Let’s take the example of chatting with an agent:
And now the example of a less specific situation, maybe a professional networking event:
Be specific about the audience and pay attention to questions. By understanding the people you’re talking to, you can talk TO them versus AT them – which is great in editing what you say.
Practice a few phrases
The first time you talk about your project or book out loud, it’s going to sound strange and maybe even awful. Practice talking about it! Don’t script and memorize word for word – or overly practice by talking about it all the time – but don’t let the “big important moment” be the first time you talk about it. Find a friend, partner, parent and talk about it!
This one is big: we get the energy we put out. If you go into a situation and it’s THE MOST IMPORTANT SITUATION EVER and your energy weights the situation as such, you’re going to put undue pressure on yourself AND make that other person feel anxious because of your anxiety.
It’s just a conversation in a series of many conversations that make up your life. Do not weigh any conversation like the one that will “make or break” you.
During the conversation:
Listen and respond
This one is simple – just listen and respond! Don’t answer the question that you think is being asked, or that you want to be asked – answer the question that you are asked.
When it comes to listening, don’t simply hear the person you’re talking to. Truly listen to them: respond, react, ask questions, make eye contact – all ways to show someone you’re listening to them. This is very specifically before talking about your project because you don’t want to just dump all of your information on to someone without letting them get to know you first!
Talk to, not at
Read that text again: you want to talk to people, not at them. When you’re talking about what you’re working on, stick to being evocative. You want people to ask questions because they are curious, not feel overwhelmed because you just talked about your book, its audience, the competitive titles, the marketing, your ideas, the next one…you get the picture.
When someone asks you “What do you do” or “Tell me what you’re working on” or “Tell me about your project” you want something short, specific, concise and interesting. This is where that practice comes in.
Remember the questions about your audience? Try to align your wants with their wants – and don’t just focus on your wants. It’s really difficult to care about a person and their exciting thing when they show no care towards you! Don’t be agenda oriented. Be genuinely interested in the other person and what they do.
You get the energy you put out, remember? If you’re enjoying the conversation, the person you’re talking to will enjoy the conversation.
After the conversation:
Glows and Grows
We use this Glow and Grow reflection mentality with my company, The Engaging Educator, when we’re helping folks with their communication skills. What went well? That’s a Glow – keep doing it. What needs work? That’s a Grow – keep working on it.
Rinse, wash, repeat
Remember when I said this can’t be THE MOST IMPORTANT CONVERSATION OF YOUR LIFE – ever?
It’s not and it never will be.
Have a conversation, reflect on how it went, and get out there and keep having conversations. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
If you’d like to learn more impromptu communication tips, check out Jen’s book Think On Your Feet: Tips and Tricks To Improve Your Impromptu Communication Skills On The Job (November, 2019) or her business, The Engaging Educator.
Want to guest blog or be interviewed? Got a cover reveal or book coming out?
Get in touch today!