rde5582_hiThis afternoon I am off to Manchester for my first ever face to face conference in my teaching career. I am attending the annual IATEFL conference. IATEFL stands for International Association of Teachers of English as a Foreign Language (wow, that was a mouthful!). The conference is one of the most important events in the industry and is held over 4 days. I am really looking forward to it.

There will be plenty of opportunities to meet other teachers, speakers, publishers and leading authorities in the ELT (English Language Teaching) world. There will also be plenty of opportunities for small talk.

And this is what got me thinking about today’s post. In our personal and business lives we often have to engage in small talk with people. Small talk is important for a number of reasons. According to Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, it’s the first step to connecting with people and forging lasting and meaningful relationships. It is an easy way to get to know someone, create a positive first impression and gain self-confidence.(Source: The Etiquette School of New York)

Many of my clients ask me to help them work on their small talk skills in their courses. Whilst very capable of holding and maintaining a conversation related to their jobs, many English Language learners find it more challenging to engage in small talk. The main reason they give is that they lack the necessary vocabulary on a range of topics and the expressions to start those conversations. It’s much easier to get straight down to business.

Here are some useful expressions that you can take away and use the next time you find yourself engaging in small talk.

Business Small Talk: Travel

How’s your hotel?
Great location & a comfortable bed – that’s all you need, isn’t it?
Is this your first visit here?
No, I’ve been here before on business. It’s a great city.
Will you have time for some sightseeing?
No, I’m afraid not. I’ve got to run to the airport right after the meeting.
What do you think of the food here?
Not too bad. There’s a great little restaurant near my hotel.


Business Small Talk : Leisure/Sport

Do you do any sport in your free time?
Yes, I go to the gym and I do a bit of jogging, but only to keep fit. How about you?
Do you think that a team from (country) will win the Champion’s League this year?
To be honest, I’m not much of a football fan. I play tennis.
What’s the biggest sport in (country) apart from football?
Well, lots of people are into cycling and basketball is really popular, too.


Business Small Talk: Weather

How was the weather in (city) when you left?
A bit sunnier/colder than here, I’m afraid.
It’s a bit warm/cold for this time of year, isn’t it?
Yes, it’s fantastic/terrible.
Is it true that it always rains in the UK?
Well, not exactly, but maybe there’s a little bit of truth in that.

Business Small Talk: Social and Political Issues

Is unemployment a big problem in (country)?
Well, it is an issue, but it’s not as bad as a few years ago.
Is your government doing anything to encourage business?
It tries to help small businesses with tax breaks, but it could do a lot more. What’s the situation here?
Alcohol causes a lot of problems here. Is it the same in (country)?
Yes, it’s getting worse. But I think it’s a problem in most places, isn’t it?

Can you think of other responses to the above questions? What other topics would you include in small talk?

I plan to engage in plenty of small talk and to learn a lot from my peers at this weekend’s conference. I believe that no matter what field we’re in conferences can help us become better professionals. I wrote a post yesterday on another blog I curate about why conferences are good for us teachers. 

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Ciao for now