There are those of us that are blessed with the ability to talk the hind legs off a donkey in any situation, but in many cases, the prospect of engaging in small talk with clients can fill us with dread. Even the words small talk can make us feel uneasy, but participating in conversation and creating the right first impressions are such crucial elements in business. If you’re slightly more introverted than extroverted, you’re new to the world of business, or you’re not the most confident person when it comes to talking to people you don’t know, here are some tips to help you master the art of small talk and form invaluable bonds with your clients.

1. Display the right body language

Before you even open your mouth to talk about the weather or the terrible traffic, make sure you’re setting the right tone. Your body language sends signals to other people, so ensure that you’re approachable, and you’re giving off the right vibes. Smile, offer a handshake and engage in eye contact. This will help to break the ice and make both parties feel more relaxed.

2. Make the first move

If you’re meeting with a client for the first time, take the initiative. Be the first to say hello and introduce yourself. Follow the opening line with an open-ended question, which gives your customer the chance to talk, and hopefully, starts a conversation.

3. Start with general conversation

Before you dive head first into statistics, sales figures or pie charts, start with some general conversation topics. Comment on the beautiful sunshine or the unexpected gale-force winds or remark on the decor in the place you’ve chosen to meet. This will warm you up, get the chat flowing, and avoid a situation where you look too aggressive or domineering. If you find that you freeze when you meet new people for the first time, it’s always good to have surefire conversation starters in your locker. If you get tense, you can call upon these subjects to get you back on track.

4. Prepare in advance

There’s nothing more awkward that stumbling over answers to questions or being flummoxed by figures during a conversation with a new or existing client. Make sure you research and prepare in advance, so that you know exactly how to respond to questions. If you’ve done the work, this will impress your client, and you’ll come across as professional and knowledgeable. You’ll also avoid those awkward silences and lower your risk of giving responses that are either inaccurate or irrelevant.

5. Avoid controversial subjects

It’s great to be able to kick off a client meeting with some general chit-chat, but make sure you choose your topics wisely. Don’t make any remarks that could be deemed controversial or get into a debate about politics, for example. Keep it light.

6. Listen

A successful conversation isn’t just about talking. It’s also about listening. If you’re chatting away about a business proposition or you’re discussing goals or objectives, make sure you listen to what your client has to say. Maintain eye contact, and ensure that you’re present. There’s nothing more off-putting than talking to somebody who is clearly not paying any attention to what you’re saying.

7. Focus on the positives

If you’re in a potentially sticky situation, for example, you’ve got a client questioning your abilities or talking about going elsewhere, focus on the positives, stay calm, and think before you speak. Highlight what you can offer or how you can improve, and keep your composure. Don’t get flustered, and try not to panic.

8. Ask questions

A client meeting should give you an insight into your customer. Use this opportunity to find out more about them and their business objectives. Don’t go into a meeting and bang on and on about how great your company is. By all means, highlight the benefits you offer, and provide explanations about products and services, but be prepared to ask questions too. Give your client a chance to speak, and avoid the hard-sell. Nobody wants to feel like they’re pinned up against a wall in a dark corner when they’re trying to sip on a coffee at 10 o’clock on a Friday morning.

9. Sign off in style

You want to leave a meeting feeling positive, so make sure you close the conversation properly. Don’t just get up and walk off. Shake your client’s hand, say that it’s been great meeting with them, and arrange to get together again soon.

Some people are blessed with natural talents when it comes to engaging in small talk, but this is not a gift shared by all. If you struggle to converse with clients, hopefully, you’ll find this guide sets you up for successful meetings, and you’ll start to feel more confident and at ease.

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Andrew Palmer
Andrew is the founder of Elegant Marketplace.