How to Make Small Talk at a Glance
When Social Skills Go Wrong
I did not want to hit on this woman.
But my friend noticed her checking me out, so he glanced at me and raised his eyebrows. I looked at him, silently saying, “Really? Do I have to?” He just tilted his head and raised his eyebrows even higher. Nothing more needed to be said — every guy knows what that look means. We can’t back down from a challenge in front of our friends, so I sighed and walked over to her.
Keep in mind this woman was a lot older than me, not really my type, and I hate approaching at bars. But among men, pride comes first. Plus, she seemed nice.
Ramit: “Hi, I’m Ramit.”
Woman: “Hi, I’m (whatever).
Ramit: “You look like a vodka soda kind of girl” (I know, I know. I don’t know where this horrific line came from)
I was a little surprised at how aggressively she said no, so I decided to have some fun.
Ramit: “Aw come on, I’ve been right 100/100 times for the last 5 years. How are you gonna break my streak like that?”
Woman: “I’m a recovering alcoholic.”
Shortest bar conversation ever. Possibly the worst. But also hilarious.
On Friday, I asked you to talk to ONE random person and write down what happened. Over 800 of you left comments sharing your hilarious, inspiring, and sometimes horrific stories. If you’re on my email list, you got a special email with my 10 favorite comments yesterday.
Let’s get started.
How to make small talk and other advanced social skills
Today, I want to take you to the next level by giving you even more advanced material — plus another challenge.
Here’s what I created for you today:
- “Small Talk” Hacks — A 30-minute video crash course where I’ll show you subtle social hacks and advanced techniques for improving your social skills. I’ve never released this before.
- New material on the invisible costs of having average social skills
Now let me show you what happens on the other end of the spectrum — when you eliminate catastrophes like me being forced to hit on a recovering alcoholic at a bar (??).
Instant Irresistibility: What “A+” social skills mean
I have a friend who’s an actress. We were talking about how she’d gone on a bunch of dates and the guys always fell in love with her. They had an instant rapport with her and felt the connection was incredibly deep after meeting her for an hour.
What they failed to understand was that she’s so socially skilled, she’s able to evoke this feeling of awe in most people she interacts with. She’s being totally transparent and ethical, but her social skills are so advanced that they bring out the best version of herself — making her almost irresistible.
In other words, having finely honed social skills is like taking a machine gun to a swordfight — FOR LIFE.
When you’re armed with amazing social skills, you can go to a party with no alcohol, only knowing 1 or 2 people… and still engage with ANYONE there. You can walk into an interview completely comfortable and nail tough question after tough question. You can contribute ideas in work meetings and know you’ll be taken seriously (and not talked over). When you walk into your boss’s office for a raise, you’re calm and confident instead of nervously wavering and turning into a puddle of goo. Improving your social skills can truly be your most valuable skill.
And that’s what social skills are: skills that can be systematically improved.
The compounding power of advanced social skills
I love hearing people complain, “Ugh, it’s not WHAT you know, it’s WHO you know.” Then they sit back in their chairs, eat another donut, and never take the time to figure how out how to IMPROVE THEIR SOCIAL SKILLS AND MEET MORE INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE! You, my jackass friend, are a whiny loser who expects the world to work the way YOU want it to — instead of responding to the way it ACTUALLY works.
If you’re an IWT reader, you live in a world of what IS, not what SHOULD be.
That means recognizing these classic barriers people make about improving their social skills.
- “Ugh, I don’t want to be one of those douchebags and start changing the way I dress and how I talk. They should like me for who I am.” Ironically, the people who use this excuse do not want to change, yet are often highly judgmental themselves.
- “If I just work hard, they’ll recognize me.” This old chestnut has been said by many an Excel expert who sat in the corner, patiently creating pivot table after pivot table, only to see the loud/salesy guy get promoted, leading them to bitterly complain about “asshole marketing guys.” See Five Geek Social Fallacies. They never understand the game being played around them.
- “I just need to get more experience before I (ask for a raise / ask for a promotion / try to get that Dream Job).” More experience might help, but as your career advances, improving your social skills is almost certainly worth more than technical talent alone.
The truth is, talent alone isn’t enough. It matters, but social skills become increasingly important — and sometimes are worth more than technical skills altogether! For example, I’ve hired people who weren’t the best at their technical skill…but they had excellent communication skills.
Elite college admission committees know this.
So does your boss.
Improving your social skills means being able to instantly “read” someone and communicate in the BEST possible way — including knowing how much detail to add, using amusing stories from your “Story Toolbox”, and comfortably sharing the very best version of yourself.
Ever notice a celebrity on The Daily Show or Conan? They don’t just come up with those stories on the fly. They’re tested, refined, and used only when they’re perfect. Much like Chris Rock practices his jokes until they’re flawless.
And as you get better at your social skills, you get more and more opportunities to practice them at higher and higher levels — getting invited to more social events, the pivotal conversation with your boss’s boss, the attractive guy you finally got the courage to talk to.
In other words, as your social skills improve, they get increasingly better, faster. They compound, making them one of your most powerful assets that can never be stripped away.
The invisible costs of poor social skills
But what happens if your social skills are just average?
Sometimes, it seems the people who don’t recognize the importance of social skills are the people who need it MOST:
She’ll never know what she missed.
How many of us go through this every day? The scary thing is, we’ll never know what we missed out on because of poor social skills. Those opportunities simply cease to exist.
- We don’t talk to that girl at the bar, then kick ourselves later. Add this up over years and we end up getting our “second pick” of partners — not the ones we WANT, but the ones who are convenient or left over.
- We stagnate in making new friends, since it’s hard to meet real friends after college. Especially if you’re not going out a lot.
- We might be technically very skilled, but we bomb the interview, or get passed over for a promotion, or we’re not in the “inner circle” of people at work whom the boss favors.
There are even more haunting examples of the consequences of having mediocre social skills:
- I have friends who thought earning enough would be enough to attract a partner. They’ve spent the last 5-10 years on their career, but never took the time to learn how to talk to men and women on a personal level. (A lot of Indian people are like this, actually.) Now what? They’ve got great jobs and lots of money in the bank, but they’re missing a core skill — and as a result, the pool of potential high-caliber partners is way smaller than for someone else.
- One of my friends runs a successful tech company and was considering acquiring a small 1-man company. After a night of drinking, he asked me what I thought of the guy. He’s a good friend so I told him the brutal truth: I told him that the guy was way too cocky for his experience, I wouldn’t want him on my team, and I told him exactly why. My friend canceled the acquisition the next day. That guy will never know that his social skills cost him a 7-figure payday.
What do all these missed opportunities add up to over 10 years? 30 years?
If you learned even ONE technique to improve your social skills — something you can use every day while talking to co-workers, men, women, even random people on the street — what would that be worth?
Introducing My “Small Talk” Hacks Video
I created a new video for you, a 30-minute crash course on improving your social skills. I didn’t want to just offer you one or two random “tips.” I wanted to go deeper.
The video includes easy scripts for starting a conversation, keeping it going, and politely ending conversations (even with ramblers). I also included a live social-skills teardown about how to make small talk, plus the powerful concept of the Story Toolbox.
1:28 – Watch as I analyze my latest national TV appearance, beat-by-beat
4:07 – The social skills mistakes I used to make
5:44 – How do you start a conversation with a stranger?
8:20 – How do you keep the conversation going?
13:47 – How do you end a conversation politely?
16:57 – Your Story Toolbox: How can make yourself memorable?
20:50 – How do you make small talk?
TO DO TODAY
In the video at 16:57, I described the Story Toolbox, a Dream Job concept that lets you walk into any interaction — a job interview, bar, or cocktail party — and instantly have 5-10 stories to use at any given moment.
Top performers know that by having these stories ready to use — stories that consistently get positive reactions — they can instantly connect with anyone.
Today, I want you to start building your Story Toolbox.
Here’s your challenge:
- Brainstorm ONE engaging story (like my story about the recovering alcoholic at the bar), then test it on 1 person — a friend, family member, coworker, even a stranger.
- In the comments below, share the story (just an excerpt) and the reaction you got. It’s OK to get a negative reaction! Share whatever you find below.
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