Think about something you’re really good at. Chances are you’re not an expert because you read a book about it. Or a blog post for that matter!
We learn by doing. Trial and error. Testing. Practice.
The same applies to small talk. Practice is the only way to get better.
To bring our series on small talk for fundraisers to a close, here are a few easy ideas for practicing some of the things we’ve covered:
1. Get Comfortable with Yourself First
Practice the items in your small talk toolbox out loud. Sometimes it’s helpful to practice in front of a mirror to watch your facial expressions and eye contact. You’ll hate it at first, but stick with it. It’s genuinely good for your self-awareness.
2. Practice Starting Conversations
Next time you go through a checkout line at a store, use the A.R.E. method to initiate a conversation with the cashier. How’d it go? Learn anything?
3. Questions for Going Deeper
Open questions (non-Yes/No) are essential to keeping a conversation flowing. Closed questions tend to begin with Are, Did, or Have; open questions often begin with Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.
And many times, the best open-ended question isn’t a question at all; it’s a statement that begins with “Tell me about…”
Practice by changing each of the following from a closed to an open question:
- Did you enjoy the tour?
- Are you involved with any other organizations in the area?
- Can I tell you about a few of our priority initiatives?
- Did you have a chance to look at our proposal?
- Have you considered including our organization in your estate plans?
This isn’t to say you should never use Are, Did, or Have questions. Just be prepared to follow your prospect’s Yes or No answer with an open question.
For example, if your prospect replies “Yes” to the tour question, your next line could be: “What did you learn about us that you didn’t know before?”
Again, use the list above to practice. Come up with an open-ended follow-up to each closed question.
4. Boost Your Conversational Quickness
Ever feel like you don’t know what to say next? Playing the “I Relate” game is a great way to speed up your response time.
Sit down with a friend or colleague and write 20 activities or scenarios each on 3 x 5 cards. Here are some examples:
- Vacation in Scottsdale, Arizona
- Just got a new dog
- Favorite team won the big game
- Remodeling the kitchen
Have your colleague read the scenarios she wrote down. Respond to each one as quickly as possible with how you relate. Relevance is important, but speed is the goal with this exercise.
Take “Vacation in Scottsdale” as an example. You could follow with, “Sounds like you’re in for a good time. I haven’t spent much time there myself, but I remember passing through on a trip to the Grand Canyon.”
At the end of the day, small talk isn’t about formulas and techniques. It’s about connecting with people.
Building trust and rapport is essential to our work. So is being likeable. Small talk is one of the tools we use to accomplish these things.
But, confidence is key. It makes everything a whole lot easier.
Thoughtful preparation will boost your confidence. And before long, small talk will come naturally.
So, keep that big picture in mind and be wary of over-thinking it.
And on your way out, add a comment with your best tip for making great small talk.
Wow. I’m just…speechless. I’m a fundraiser (and I really good one, might I add) who also has social anxiety, and your blog is – quite literally – a God-send for me.
Just this weekend, for example, a board member invited me to her birthday party, which happened to be filled to the brim with some of our prospects. I went to the party alone, and the first 30 minutes were just brutal. Of course, the entire time I was thinking, “I’m in the wrong career. How can you be a fundraiser with social anxiety?” I nearly talked myself into leaving early, but I stuck with it (thanks to another board member who arrived and gracefully pulled me into her “circle”). Throughout the evening, I ended up having great conversations – including scheduled follow-ups – with a few amazing people.
All this to say, thank you. Thank you for helping us non-social butterfly fundraisers.
K. Michael says
Thanks for the kinds words! You are definitely not alone.
And thanks for sharing that story. It’s a perfect example of taking effective ACTION in spite of uncomfortable FEELINGS. I hope the experience boosts your confidence going forward. I’d say you are absolutely in the right career!
João Costa says
Excellent post, and the content here goes well beyond fund raising.