The Fine Art of Small Talk: How to Start a Conversation, Keep It Going, Build Networking Skills--And Leave a Positive Impression!
Debra Fine. Hyperion Books, $16.95 (202pp) ISBN 978-1-4013-0226-9
Would-be social butterflies will get encouragement but little inspiration from this not quite scintillating self-help primer. Fine, a conversation consultant, insists that small talk is the necessary overture to deeper communication, the key to generating business leads and dates and a pathway to a richer life in which strangers are magically transformed into acquaintances. She covers such cocktail-party conundrums as how to spot ""approachable"" interlocutors, how to make introductions, how to butt into an intriguing conversation, resuscitate a flagging one and bail out of a boring one, and how to resist one-uppers, know-it-alls, motormouths and other abusers of talk. Given the ingrained human reluctance to talk to strangers, will, not technique, is the real issue. Much of the book is taken up with motivational pep-talks to get readers to initiate contact (one agonizing exercise suggests ""walk through the mall and just say hello to ten people as you pass them""); in a world where everyone feels at a loss for words, Fine argues, saying virtually anything makes one a ""hero."" Unfortunately, it doesn't necessarily make one a great conversationalist. The heart of Fine's methodology consists of long lists of icebreakers and inviting questions that she instructs readers to memorize and regurgitate as needed to jump-start and sustain conversations, and these read like rather bad small-talk-dull (""How has the internet affected your life?""), stilted (""Do you have a personal motto or creed?"") and awkward (""Describe an embarrassing moment you've had.""). Tongue-tied readers can benefit from her pointers and exhortation, but one hopes they will think a little harder before they speak.
Reviewed on: 10/03/2005
Paperback - 240 pages - 978-1-4013-1006-6