Book review by Stuart Ayling
Title: The Fine Art of Small Talk
Author: Debra Fine
Published: 2005 (reprint 2014), 224 pages
What is it about?
“If your conversations evaporate almost as soon as they’ve begun, or if you’re a reluctant participant at social and business get-togethers, you’ve come to the right place. This book will help you acquire the conversation skills you need to feel confident and poised in any situation.”
So starts this easy-to-read book on questioning and listening skills.
The book’s subtitle is ‘How to start a conversation in any situation’ and throughout the book there are numerous examples of how to start, manage, and close conversations in business and social settings.
The author is an engineer by profession, now turned author and speaker. She readily explains how she was not a sociable child and subsequently chose engineering as a career because it did not have a high demand for conversation. However after experiencing mid-life challenges including having children and a divorce she decided she wanted to be happier and must improve her communication skills – including the ability to create conversations with others.
Clearly the book is written for those who are intimidated by the thought of meeting new people and striking up conversations. The structure of the book takes you step by step through the process, preparation and techniques required to have ‘casual’ conversations.
There are 16 chapters, with the last three chapters focusing on more on situations relating to dating (i.e. being single).
Chapter 2: Get over your mum’s good intentions
- The first step in becoming a great conversationalist is becoming invested in the conversation and actively working to help the other person feel more comfortable.
- Includes a list of 20 business-related ice breakers, and 30 social-related ice breakers, such as:
– What got you started in this industry/area of practice?
– What advice would you give someone first starting out in your industry?
– Tell me about the best holiday you’ve ever taken?
Chapter 3: Take the plunge: start a conversation
- Don’t wait for others to ask, be the first to start a conversation.
- Be the first to smile and greet another person.
- Use peoples names, and avoid nicknames or assuming what they prefer to be called.
Chapter 6: Hearing aids and listening devices
- Listening is more than just hearing. It’s a level of involvement that goes beyond reciting the contents of the conversation.
- Includes a list of positive and also off-putting gestures (body language).
- Techniques to verbalise your listening such as “Tell me more. What was that like for you?”
Chapter 7: Prevent pregnant pauses with preparation
- Prepare for a conversation like you would prepare for an interview – both as the interviewer and the interviewee.
- Contains 30 questions that could be asked to prevent uncomfortable pauses, under headings such as: Jump Starters; History Lessons; Interview Questions.
Chapter 10: The graceful exit
- If you are at a party or an industry meeting and your goal is to meet people, you must find the courage to leave the conversation to meet your goals.
- Tips on exit lines (what to say), how to make referrals, how to introduce people, how to show appreciation e.g. “I’ve really enjoyed talking with you about your new business”.
Chapter 12: Make the most of networking events
- The ability to talk easily is a learned skill, not a personality trait.
- 20 tips on what to do to put yourself and others at ease (these pointers sum up advice from the rest of the book)
What I liked:
The book is really easy to read and includes many specific tips of exactly what to ‘say’ (verbally) and what to ‘do’ (physically). I think readers who are timid in social settings will benefit from this practical “how to” advice.
It is also written in a sensible sequence that builds on each section.
What I didn’t like:
Nothing. The book does what it says it will.
Would I recommend it?
Yes definitely. I reviewed this book because I thought it could be helpful for the professional and technically-oriented people I often work with during training sessions. I have seen first-hand their reluctance to engage in conversation with clients and others they don’t know (usually from a lack of experience and training in these skills). This book is a great primer to help anyone become more comfortable having conversations.