I am a shy person. Which might’ve been holding me back from many things in life. But on the bright side, it really shielded me from many nasty sh*ts going on around me. That alone could make up for my awful English speaking skill and mild social awkwardness.
I am a relentless learner with some aptitude for reading and listening. That’s why I’m trying to improve the “speaking” part of my skillset by enrolling into a yet another course in that subject. Here’s the first part of my note.
Small Talk 101
Strangely, being able to make a good small talk is an important skill in any profession. It’s true that the small talks are the best way to start off a conversation which might lead to the “bigger talk”.
You can see it in action in every culture. In the good old days of Mongolia, traditional greetings and small talks would go on and on for at least half an hour before the real conversation agenda begins. The two parties would talk about basically everything happened to them since they saw each other last time.
Step 1. Introduce Yourself
When you’re introducing yourself to a someone new:
John: Hello, I’m John. What’s your name?
Carl: Hello, I’m Ben.
John: Nice to meet you, Ben.
Why should you say your new acquaintance’s name after “Nice to meet you”?
- It helps you to remember the name. I’ve been in many awkward situations when I forgot the name that I’ve just heard. Just say back the name, and it will stick in your head more quickly.
- It’s more welcoming.
Step 2. Make Connections (Ask Questions)
John: This is a great event, Isn’t it? What brings you here?
Carl: Oh, I’m here for work and you?
John: Me too
Carl: What kind of work do you do?
Listen, listen, listen. After making connections, listen to what he/she says and keep the conversation going on. Smile and keep your eyes on the person you’re talking. It’s a chance to know something about someone new, isn’t it interesting? Find something you’ve common.
The more detail you add to your answers, it becomes easier to get the conversation going on.
Here’s a list of major, bulletproof small talk topics:
- News, current events
And when the conversation finally approaches to its end, end it with a plan to see that person again.
Small talks could help you to start a new friendship and interesting new connections. Don’t shy away from it!
Pronunciation: Stress & Intonation
Every word is made of from syllables. We stress only one syllable from every word. Such as the highlighted syllables in the following words:
If you keep your English listening skill honed, you don’t need to worry about where to put a stress on a word. You do it naturally.
Rhythm and beat of a language are expressed in the sentence stresses.
- He bought some jeans
- He bought a pair of jeans
Basically, the important words in a sentence are going to be stressed (which means saying them louder and longer). They are called the content words. Here are some types of content words:
- Nouns ~ jeans
- Action verbs ~ bought
- Adverbs ~ insanely
- Adjectives ~ big
- WH question words ~ what
- Negatives ~ no, don’t
If you clear off other words from a sentence, it will still have its meaning:
- He bought some jeans
But the opposite of it is not true:
- He bought some jeans
Non-content words in a sentence are the structure words. You should say them softer and shorter. They hold together the sentence, but don’t have any meaning on their own. Such words are:
- Prepositions ~ at, on
- Pronouns ~ he, she
- Articles ~ a, an
- Modals ~ could, should
- Helping verbs ~ be, have
By saying the content words louder/longer and the structure words softer/shorter, we create the rhythm of English.
- Rising intonation – It demands a yes/no answer from the person you’re speaking to.
Did you make the call?
- Rising and then falling intonation – It says that you are finished, and now it is his/her turn to speak. Use it in a statement, or when you’re asking for more information.
Summer wheather Arizona is hot and humid.
What’s the weather like in your country?
So-called “elevator” speeches are not really the elevator speeches, it’s called “elevator speech” because it takes a short amount of time, just like an elevator ride. It’s the best way to do networking and helps you to create important connections (Sounds Machiavellian? No surprise! Life is full of this.).
A good elevator speech should have the following:
- A story (Tell your story)
- Keep the person you are talking to interested (They should want more about your story)
- End with an opportunity to meet again
Besides what you are speaking, how you are speaking is equally important.
- Speak slowly ~ Which makes them understand your point. It shows that you are aware of your listeners.
- Use pauses ~ To highlight the important points you’ve made.
- Change your volume ~ It helps them to understand you.
- Use good body language ~ Smile, look friendly, make eye contact, stand tall, use hand gestures to show that you are friendly, enthusiastic and confident. What if you are actually not? I can’t tell you that you should fake it until you make it. Which surely sounds cheesy, but builds the real confidence, nonetheless.
Listen to audiobooks or podcasts, which is a great way to learn nuances of the language while entertaining yourself. Nothing beats the soothing, silky voice of Jim Dale or Stephen Fry in that regard.
Speak in English for at least half an hour every day. You will get hang of it naturally.