Workshop Recap– The art of small talk and networking with Rachel Simmons

Photo Courtesy Of | Rachel Simmons addresses common networking fears at her talk


Maryellen Stohlman-Vandrveen ‘19
Copy Editor

At Rachel Simmons’ Feb. 10 workshop, “The Art of Small Talk and Networking,” Simmons impressed on a group of attending Smith students that small talk for the purpose of networking shouldn’t feel stodgy, fake or unpleasant.

“This is not supposed to be like sitting in the dentist’s chair,” Simmons said. “You’re looking for connection and this is supposed to be in some ways pleasant for you.”

The goal of Simmons’ workshop was to provide students with the tools they need to effectively make professional connections and network with new contacts through small talk. Many students who came to Simmons’ event had either attended one of Simmons’ previous workshops, or felt anxiety about the idea of having to make conversation with a potential stranger, or worse a potential employer.

To warm up the room, Simmons utilized an anonymous survey platform, Poll Everywhere, that invited students to text in their response to her question, “What makes you uncomfortable about small talk and networking?” Students took out their phones and answers began popping up on the screen at the front of the room:

“Embarrassing myself in front of someone”

“Running out of things to talk about”

“Messing up”

It became apparent that many students in the room shared similar fears, but Simmons calmed their worries by breaking down small talk into three, easy steps. This made the act of conversing for the sake of networking not only a science-like process, but also a practical art, as Simmons put it. Her three steps, based on the work of communication expert Dr. Carol Fleming, could be summarized into, “anchor, reveal, encourage.”

1 – Anchor: Make an observation that can connect you to another person that draws on an experience or something else that you share. (“This is a really interesting workshop.”)

2 – Reveal: Continue the conversation by disclosing something about yourself that relates to the anchor you just used. (“Rachel Simmons was my first year orientation group leader.”)

3 – Encourage: Ask them a personal (but not too personal!) question to get them talking about themselves and the conversation going. (“Have you ever taken a workshop with Rachel?”)

Simmons urged students to resist the idea that networking is a way of using someone, or forming a relationship on false pretenses. “Everyone knows it is happening, and everyone knows they are doing it,” Simmons said. It is a mutual relationship that should result in gain for both people.

If you find that you are not interested in forming a connection with someone, it is totally acceptable to ‘abort mission’ and use the classic restroom excuse. Simmons shared with the students her personal rule. “If a relationship does not sprout from these initial contacts, it does not mean that you are doing something wrong. Networking is like a kind of dating… they just aren’t the right person for you.”

Rachel Simmons has two upcoming workshops in April. Her first workshop on April 4, “Communication Norms Beyond the Bubble,” is taking place in the Campus Center, Room 103/104, from noon to 1 p.m. Her “Self-Promotion Workshop for People Who Hate to Brag” will be also be taking place in CC Room 103/104, on April 5 from 4:15 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. Check out these events to find out why self-promotion isn’t necessarily bragging and learn about communication norms out there in the ‘real’ world that will help you when it comes to networking and finding a job after Smith.

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