Small talk is greatly underrated. Many people think it is superficial and insignificant. However, small talk is in reality the most important talk you will have with someone because it determines the depth of the relationship you can build with him.

As Dr Beh Swan Gin, managing director of EDB Singapore, pointed out: “The ability to start and carry on conversations with corporate heads and industry leaders the world over is what differentiates a stellar salesman from a mediocre one.”

Here are four simple yet powerful strategies to make a lasting impression with small talk.

Start strong

The key reason why people fail at small talk is because they do not know how to start strong. So here are three types of openers to get you started.

Address an immediate situation

The most natural way to connect with someone is to talk about the immediate situation because it is on his mind. “You look flustered. What happened?”

Compliment the person sincerely

When people feel good about themselves, they feel better about you too. Say: “You look great in this pink dress. Where did you get it from?”

Ask for opinions or feedback

Asking for opinions allows people to express their values and thoughts, helping you to understand them better. Furthermore, people feel valued when you seek their opinions. Ask: “Who are some attractive people you have met at this event? Why do you find them so?”

Notice that all the openers are open-ended, which prevents a monosyllabic reply that makes following up difficult, like “yes”, “no”, “good” or “bad”. For the same reason, cliché questions like “How are you?” should also be avoided.

Keep them talking

Dale Carnegie, who wrote many books on communication, once stated that “when a person does most of the talking, he will feel that it is the best conversation he has ever had”. Hence, it pays to keep them talking.

An easy way to do so is through physical attention. Robert Bolten of People Skills defines this as “listening with the whole body”. So this means leaning forward and making eye contact to show interest. Encouraging body gestures, such as nodding and smiling, are also useful.

You can also keep the conversation going by prompting with words like “And then?”, “Really?”, “Tell me more!” This makes the individual more comfortable to share.

Add these power seeds

Power seeds amplify your connection with an individual.

Establish common ground quickly

Before you can get the person to say “I like you”, you need to first show him “I (am) like you”. Commonality breeds likeability. Hence in your conversation, you want you to establish common ground as quickly you can. It can be in one of the following categories: passions, challenges, values, opinions or experiences.

Find opportunities to give

When you give a person something, he is psychologically obliged to give something in return. It’s the law of reciprocity at work. Find opportunities to give in your conversation. They include compliments, attention, energy and knowledge. Giving invokes an atmosphere of sharing, making the other party more comfortable with you.

Show genuine care for the person

People do not care much about what you have to say until you show them how much you care. Place yourself in the person’s shoes as he shares his experiences, or simply listen attentively. He will then be more comfortable to converse freely with you.

It’s not about you

Ultimately, the conversation is not about you, but the other party. So instead of manipulating the conversation, focus on the person and be genuinely interested in him. You will be amazed how stimulating someone can be if you give him a chance to be known.

Here is a final tip that will win people over effortlessly. The key to unlocking your charisma is not trying to make people feel good about you. It’s about making them feel good about themselves.