Orangeville, ON (My Corner Office) Have you ever been invited to a business networking meeting or luncheon, or thought about going to your chamber of commerce’s networking events, but decided not to because you never know what to say to get the conversation started?

Most people struggle with making small talk. Here’s a simple trick to help you feel comfortable with the cocktail party small talk.

F.O.R.M. works as a memory tool for when you are in social situations and you want to get to know the person you are talking with, and you want that person to remember you and your business. Instead of talking about the weather, use F.O.R.M. to make your conversation count.

F.O.R.M. stands for Family, Occupation, Recreation and Message. These are four areas you can use as conversation helpers in just about any social situation.

Family – asking whether they live around the area, if they are originally from the area or have moved there recently or if they have a family. All of these are great conversation starters. This gets the person talking about themselves and gives you a chance to learn about them.

Occupation – what do you do for a living? When they tell you what they do, you have a great opportunity to ask them about their job. If it’s in an industry you are familiar with, you can comment about how competitive it is or how challenging. If you are unfamiliar with their industry, here’s your chance to learn about it.

When they ask what you do, have your ’30 second elevator speech’ ready. This is a description of your business that you can say in just two sentences that articulate what you do.

Recreation – this one’s easy! What do you do for fun? If they take part in a sport or hobby that you enjoy, you can swap stories and really build a memorable relationship with the person.

For instance, if someone tells you they love to travel, then you can talk to them for hours, learning about the places they’ve visited. You can also share with them a passion for photography and how your camera has gotten you into some interesting adventures while you’ve been on the road.

Message – when you feel the conversation winding down, or you want to move on to meet other people in the group, have your “message” that you want this person to remember about you ready to go. It’s something like your elevator speech, but much more personal to the individual you are talking to.

Keep your message simple. “It was great to meet you, ___. If you ever need help with ___ or you run into someone who does, you know who to call.”

It is implied that when they give you their card, you will refer business to them. You definitely should. Rising tides raise all ships, and the more referrals you can send to others, the more they are likely to send to you.

You can skip some steps, or cover them in a different order but your message is key. Foremost, you want to build a relationship with the person you are talking with, and you do that with the first 3 questions. The message you give them as you get ready to leave helps them remember who you are and what you do. This is an incredibly powerful way to use networking to grow your referrals and your customer base.

Give F.O.R.M. a try the next time you are stuck for a conversation starter. Then watch your network and your customer base grow.