When Small Talk Leads to Big Benefits

Small talk. Chit chat. Whatever you call the verbal bric-a-brac people engage in with people they don’t very well, one thing is certain. I’ve never really enjoyed it. It’s not that I can’t think of things to say. It’s more that I’d rather people watch or talk to people I know than make nice with strangers. However, I’ve just returned from the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference and I now can see the benefits of small talk.

Making small talk with strangers is a whole lot more fun when you’re surrounded by people who have the same hopes and dreams as you. At every seminar I attended, I found myself engrossed in conversations with those around me.

It started immediately wit the first session of the conference, Pitch Perfect. This session was for those of us who would be pitching our manuscript ideas to agents and editors the next day. I sat down and hadn’t even had a chance to look through my conference packet and swag bag when the man next to me introduced himself.

“Oh, great,” I thought, still in my pre-conference mindset. “He’s a talker.”

But as he talked about his book idea, I forgot all about my desire to sit quietly and watch the other attendees or mindlessly scroll through my phone. As he talked about his manuscript I was blown away. By the end of our 15-minute conversation we had shared our pitches and I was blown away by his inventive story. We exchanged cards and I can’t wait to see what happens next for him.

You won't see small talk listed on any conference brochure, but push yourself to do it and you'll experience some of the most valuable takeaways you never expected. Click To Tweet

The scene replayed itself out repeatedly throughout the three-day conference. I found myself starting conversations with strangers and huddled around tables and work shopping with people I had never met before. You could almost touch the excitement and energy flowing between the attendees.

On Friday afternoon after working on my pitch with a group of writers at lunch and returning late to the following session, I passed a woman in the hallway that I had not met before.

“Hey, where are you going,” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m late for the next session and to tell you the truth I could use a break.”

“Me too,” she said. “Can I buy you a cup of coffee?”

We played hooky from the session and shared a cup of coffee. It turned out she was a memoir writer like me. Again, I was blown away by the story she was attempting to bring into the world. The time passed quickly as we talked about writing about real life. Before we knew it, we looked at our clocks and we were almost late for the next session. We hurried off.

Of course, all this talking was practice too. Interacting with writers helped me be more comfortable talking to speakers and others at the conference. It also made pitching to agents more natural when I did so Saturday morning. I’ll talk about the pitch session in a later blog since it will take a whole post to talk about that.

Overall, I learned there is value in chit-chat. Time flies when you’re talking to people who get what you are working toward. Then small talk is just the opening to connect on a deeper level.

You won’t see small talk listed on any conference brochure, but push yourself to do it and you’ll experience some of the most valuable takeaways you never expected.


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  1. Karen DeBonis

    I haven’t been to a writing conference yet, Catherine, but it’s exciting to hear about it from you. And I can’t wait to hear how the pitching went!

    • Catherine Lanser

      Thanks, Karen. I love attending writing conferences and this one has been on my list for a long time. There aren’t a lot of memoir writers so it was fun to connect with them at a big event like this.

    • Catherine Lanser

      That’s true. I had quite a few delays in my way out so bad a lot of time to make small talk with fellow passengers. Unfortunately, it was mostly about missing our flights. 🙂

  2. Misty Warner @writersynacity

    I felt like a kid in a candy store. I kept wanting to jump from one conversation to the next. Each group that was talking add something phenomenal to say either about their work or something they were really passionate about. So glad I went to the conference and I’m so glad you had an excellent time as well!

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