Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone, has a good post on making small talk more effective (and authentic) that makes the simple point: be yourself. But to do this, you have to ignore conventional wisdom’s first rule of small talk:
Small talk experts claim that when you ﬁrst meet a person, you should avoid unpleasant, overly personal, and highly controversial issues.
Wrong! Don’t listen to these people! Nothing has contributed more to the development of boring chitchatters everywhere. The notion that everyone can be everything to everybody at all times is completely off the mark. Personally, I’d rather be interested in what someone was saying, even if I disagreed, than be catatonic any day.
There’s one guaranteed way to stand out in the professional world: Be yourself. I believe that vulnerability—yes, vulnerability—is one of the most underappreciated assets in business today. Too many people confuse secrecy with importance. Business schools teach us to keep everything close to our vest. But the world has changed. Power, today, comes from sharing information, not withholding it. More than ever, the lines demarcating the personal and the professional have blurred. We’re an open-source society, and that calls for open-source behavior. And as a rule, not many secrets are worth the energy required to keep them secret.