There is Nothing Small about Small Talk

Never underestimate the power of small talk before a meeting. I was at a recent client meeting about budget allocation on a new account. I came prepared. I had all the numbers memorized. I poked holes in my logic to see if there was a weak link. I rehearsed. I had our book ready to show. I asked questions of my team when I was uncertain about something. I role-played. I took a 10 minute loop around the hotel before the meeting just to line up my thoughts. I was ready.

We walked into the meeting and it began with some small talk as most meetings do. The client had mentioned the weather. Then a local trade show and how effective/important they are these days. We only had an hour scheduled. The conversation took another turn. Great. I was ready. I was about to talk about the budget but then -- more small talk. This time about real estate and then the latest car models. I looked at my watch. There were 45 precious minutes left and we hadn’t started the ‘meeting’.

I began to sweat. Not physically. Mentally. I felt that I should interject my shop’s agenda. But was it the right time? I was participating in lively small talk -- but still -- not keeping the talk on topic? That’s my job. To keep it on topic.

Another 10 minutes went by with no mention of the topic at hand. At that point I realized what was going on:

I let the client talk. And talk. And talk. And I said little. I listened.

It was an interesting conversation for sure. But that’s not the point. I have learned that you have to let things unfold at the client’s pace. This is especially true when discussing financing of new accounts with new clients. This is doubly true if the client is not as familiar with you or your agency. The road to this understanding is littered with accounts I have fumbled and clients I had offended. Make no mistake, this took me a long time to learn and even longer to put into practice. At these moments, your mind tends to drift to things like how much it costs to fly into New York from LA, how much the hotel in midtown is per night, how much food you are expensing, cabs, receptions, lost productivity etc…

Back to the meeting -- with about 5 minutes left as we got up to shake hands, the client summed up our proposal, approved our budget and told us to start billing in 2 weeks. Funny thing is, all that rehearsal went out the window. I didn’t need to say anything – the client said it for me. I’m glad I was prepared but it turned out that the client was just testing the water and getting comfortable with us and our shop. At their own pace.

Sometimes small talk can have a profound effect.


Nir Bashan is an executive creative director with over 16 years of advertising, entertainment and business development experience.  He writes on topics coveringadvertising, media, creative solutions and workforce management. |

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