by Jonathan Vatner | March 01, 2005

Book jacketMaking meaningful chitchat in a business setting can be excruciating. Heed these helpful tips from Debra Fine, author of The Fine Art of Small Talk (Small Talk Publishers;

Open simply. To help break the ice, approach someone who meets your gaze and begin by asking, “What brought you to this event?” or “What have you particularly enjoyed about today’s sessions?” Then listen for commonalities in the response.

Do not interrogate. Avoid asking a gamut of personal or intrusive questions. Stick to one subject for a few minutes and have a real conversation about it.

Remember names. Spend a few seconds mentally rehearsing a person’s name after introductions have been made. If you forget, apologize and ask again.

Break it off. If you really need to move on, give the person a 30-second warning, such as, “I need to meet so-and-so before he leaves.” Then allow the person to wrap up the conversation. If that doesn’t happen, politely excuse yourself.