When it comes to conference calls, small talk can feel like a pointless exercise that doesn’t contribute anything to the topic at hand. But small talk is important because it lays the foundation for the rest of the call—and if you blow it, you can easily sabotage the objectives you hoped to achieve from the conference.
Why Small Talk Matters in Conference Calls
Time is a precious commodity and it’s natural for conference callers to want to immediately jump into meatier matters. But small talk has its place because it facilitates the exchange of basic information, builds rapport and gives call participants the opportunity to ease into the conversation.
Think of it this way: if the conference call is a house, small talk is the foyer. Everyone knows that the group will eventually end up in the dining room or living room, but there has to be an entryway—the space designed to transition guests into the main living area. It would be awkward to enter the house through a main room, even if the architecture allowed it.
Conference calls are constructed in a similar manner. Small talk opens the door to more substantive conversations. So like it or not, you’re going to have to learn how to talk small (and how to do it well) if you want to upgrade your conferencing skill set.
Dos and Don'ts of Conference Calls
In audio-only calls, the absence of physical cues and eye contact can make small talk even more challenging. With that in mind, here are a few dos and don’ts to help you convert small talk into a springboard for a successful conference.
1. Do ... Listen more than you talk in conference.
People who monopolize small talk conversations are irritating. To avoid turning off other meeting participants, live by the general rule of listening more than you talk during this initial portion of conference calls.
2. Do ... Ask simple questions.
When it’s time to talk, consider asking general, non-business-related questions that build rapport and establish the backgrounds of others on the call. For example, by simply asking where the other participants are located you can stimulate a short conversation that uncovers valuable information about other callers.
3. Do ... Remember names of conference call participants.
It’s common for people to introduce themselves during small talk. Make an effort to remember everyone’s name and try to associate it with their voice to avoid embarrassment later in the conversation,. (Hint By using web conferencing services that integrate with the audio call, you can see who’s talking to help keep it all straight.)
1. Don't ... Talk business at the begining of the conference call.
Try to avoid jumping into business topics during small talk. There will be plenty of time for that later and by discussing business topics before everyone has joined the call, you can create confusion because some people won’t be up-to-speed—even if they joined the call on time.
2. Don't ... Gossip on conference calls.
Gossip about competitors or other topics isn’t appropriate for small talk. Remember: your goal is to create a connection and establish a foundation for the rest of the call, not to trash other individuals or companies.
3. Don't ... Discuss politics, religion or sex in conference.
It’s just common sense that you should avoid controversial topics during small talk. If you’re going to offend other call participants, make sure it’s due to a legitimate business reason—not because you thought an off-color joke would make a great ice-breaker.
Finally, the rule of thumb for small talk is to make the conversation as inclusive as possible. If you choose to strike up a conversation about an exclusive experience you had with one or two other call participants, you will instantly alienate everyone else on the call and miss an opportunity to set an inclusive tone for the rest of your conference.
Tell us about your strategy for kicking-off a conference call. What topics for small talk have you found worked or failed?