What is small talk in business networking terms? In my mind, small talk is a casual business conversation to find a mutual connection with someone that you might like to do business with.

It consists of these 3 phases:

1. The ice breaker
2. Get to know you better
3. Graceful exit

So let’s go ahead and briefly touch on each phase and, in turn, give you some concrete takeaway strategies that you can apply immediately at your next networking event!

Phase 1: The ice breaker

So you attend a networking event, make eye contact with someone you want to meet, approach them, and introduce yourself. Now what?

A few powerful, open-ended ice breaker questions should certainly do the trick. For example:

  • A tried and true ice breaker is the proverbial, “So Jeff, what do you do?” In other words, “Jeff, what business are you in? Now people love talking about themselves and their business, so the idea is to get them started talking. Most people also love to hear the sound of their own voice, so the ice breaker question is critical and essentially sets the tone and potential for the conversation.
  • Another good ice breaker could be, “So Jeff, what brings you here today?”

Now notice that I’ve repeated the person’s name on these sample ice breaker questions. First off, doing this will help burn that person’s name into my head so I don’t forget it. Secondly, people love the sound of their own name – so don’t be afraid to use it throughout your conversation.

Phase 2: Get to know you better

Depending on the results of the ice breaker questions, you should by now be able to determine whether or not it makes sense to get to know this person better. If not, skip this phase and go into your graceful exit. But if you do see a synergy here, by all means, try some of these again open-ended, getting to know you better questions:

  • So Jeff, how did you get into that business?
  • What types of challenges keep you up at night?
  • Jeff, help me out here. Draw me a mental picture. What does true success look like for you and your business?
  • What’s new in your industry these days? Any events or trends that are shaping it?

If the situation permits, you can use one or two of these questions or more in your networking. However, be careful here not to dominate and monopolize someone’s time. If you’re at a networking event, there’s a good chance that they’re there to network and meet other people as well, so it may make sense to go to the graceful exit phase and encourage you two to get together soon.

Phase 3: Graceful exit

It’s vastly important how you leave a conversation – as this is the last impression you make on that person. We’re not looking to create any animosity by rudely blowing someone off. As this phase’s title states, the key is to exit gracefully.

A critical difference between the types of questions or statements you make in this phase and the previous two phases is that now you shift to using close-ended ones. For example:

  • Introduce the person to someone else that may be of interest to them, and then politely excuse yourself. The dialogue can go something like this: “Hey Cindy, I’d like you to meet Jeff. Jeff’s in the XYZ industry as well, and I just felt that you two should meet.”
    Now they exchange pleasantries, and you immediately exit the conversation by saying something like, “Well, you two probably have a bunch to talk about. Cindy, I’ll catch up with you later, and Jeff, it was great meeting you.”
  • Another example of a graceful exit may be: I can certainly see some synergy between what you and I do. So can I give you a call next week to set up some time to talk further?
  • Or, it’s been great meeting you. Will I see you at future meetings?
  • And lastly, wow, this is quite an event, don’t you think? Well, we should probably keep moving. It was great meeting you, Jeff!

Wrapping Up The 3 Phases of Small Talk

So, are you ready to apply the 3 phases of small talk in your networking? Remember, it’s just a casual conversation meant to find a connection with others!

So stay in the game and practice, practice, and you can also see the results you like for your business.



The Dean Mercado Company helps Small Business Owners optimize and scale their business.


150 Motor Pkwy, Suite 401
Hauppauge, NY 11788
☏ 631-333-7436

Scroll to Top