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Small Talk: Follow these tips to transform any interaction from dreaded to productive

Small Talk: Follow these tips to transform any interaction from dreaded to productive

We dread small talk but we don’t have to. Transform small talk into a welcome opportunity with these tips.

You dial into a conference call right on time. It’s just you and another person on the line, and you’re waiting for two more. Your anxiety rises, and you bring up the weather to fill the silence.  “Is it spring yet in Chicago? Here in New York…” it feels fake and forced. Despite your best intentions, you feel trapped by small talk. That’s no way to start any interaction!

Most people despise small talk but I think it gets a bad rap. We don’t want to feel inauthentic. We are not comfortable with silence. We feel pressure to make the interaction work, when in reality, that’s a two person job. How can we feel more in control of these interactions without avoiding them all together?

For introverts especially, it’s essential to transform small talk from a dreaded nuisance to an opportunity to begin a new relationship—even if it’s one that only lasts for 30 seconds.

Here are tips to avoid feeling inauthentic when faced with small talk:

Think Up Topics

Whether you’re heading into a networking event or a wedding, it’s likely you’ll be chatting with someone new. Think of a few relevant topics you can bring up if you feel cornered in an interaction. What new TV shows are you watching, or are you taking a trip sometime soon? People love to talk about themselves so ask questions and go beyond the weather.

“It’s Not You…”

We feel pressure to perform in small talk situations. Reframe the experience and make it all about the person you’re talking to. Focus on making them feel comfortable. Make eye contact and remember their name.  Remember that if you’re uncomfortable so are they. Practice getting more comfortable with being uncomfortable and less afraid of silence.

Make an Exit

The interaction will not last forever (promise!) and it’s okay for you to decide that it is over. Rather than making up an excuse to go to the other side of the room—and then avoiding that person until the end of the night—make a solid exit. “It’s been nice talking to you—I hope you enjoy the rest of the event” is acceptable and respectable when the time has come. It shows you value the interaction and the time spent together and gives you an out as well.

Put Yourself Out There: Networking With Ease

Put Yourself Out There: Networking With Ease

Your expertise and enthusiasm make you uniquely qualified to speak about your work so why is networking so hard?

We’re gearing up for “Put Yourself Out There,” a professional development training with NYU alumni at the NYU Wasserman Center for Career Development on Nov. 15 (NYU alumns join us! which has us thinking again about networking and how we can all stand to improve our business communication skills to achieve effective communication in a short amount of time.

For some, walking into a room full of strangers can be an uncomfortable experience in its own right and then add having to initiate conversation to the mix, well, then it becomes downright intimidating! For others, chatting up strangers may be the easy part but it’s challenging to talk about themselves and their work in a concise and compelling way.  The good news is that networking, just like public speaking, is a muscle and the more you practice it the stronger you’ll become.

Set An Intention

Before networking, or any situation where you have to speak in public, the best thing you can do first is set an intention.  Ask yourself, “What do I want to get out of this experience? Practice an elevator pitch?  Identify possible business partners?  Land a new client?” Being clear about what you want from your audience in advance will help position you to network in a more focused and efficient way.

Another thing that’s helpful to think about is a network as a shared connection (Can you hear me now?) which makes the experience more about a give-and-take and less about trying to impress the other person which can lead to an anxious or one-sided exchange (which is isn’t fun for anyone involved).

Engage in Active Listening

If you think of networking as a shared connection and exchange of energy between people you’ll find it promotes active listening.  When we actively listen to another person we are listening in order to learn instead of politely waiting for our turn to speak again.  Actively listening while networking may help you identify a potential [business opportunity, job lead, client prospect – you get the idea] that you could have missed otherwise.  Networking in order to experience a shared connection with another person will also encourage sharing information about yourself in a way that steadily moves you toward achieving your previously set intention.

Try It Out

As you try out these tips you’ll find they’ll work in any networking situation from an after-work happy hour to an industry-wide convention.  So, the next time you find yourself asking (or being asked) “So, what do you do?” you’ll be networking like a pro.

Bespoken’s Cringe-Free Guide to Networking

Bespoken’s Cringe-Free Guide to Networking

Networking is a word that makes even the best of us cringe. There’s something about putting ourselves out there that feels… Invasive? Fake?

Bespoken co-founder Leah Bonvissuto
Bespoken co-founder Leah Bonvissuto

This necessary evil becomes more unavoidable every day. We assume everyone is better at it than we are. We are hard on ourselves for being unable to have “fun” in an environment supposedly designed for just that. We go to networking events, we stand on the sidelines and it doesn’t seem to get any better.

No matter your reason for avoiding it, networking is a professional development skill that we can all get better at when taken one step at a time. At Bespoken, we give people tools to network on their own terms, training people 1×1 or in small group settings (if you’re in NYC, join us on April 12th at Spark Labs for our networking masterclass—early bird discount available through April 5thclick here to register). 

Here are some actionable techniques to implement the next time you walk into a room:

Reframe the experience

Walking into a networking event can produce feelings of stress and anxiety, especially if you’ve had bad experiences in the past. Give yourself an intention that has nothing to do with the word “networking”. Make a connection, or make it a goal to help other people, not yourself. Reframing the experience will help you feel ownership over it as you build your own strategy going forward.

Go outside In

Give yourself a physical task—something you can commit to 100% in the moment. Force a smile (it works!) or choose to stand with your arms at your sides instead of crossed (body language is a powerful tool when used effectively). Changing up your physicality limits negative past associations and gets you out of your head.

Make eye contact

Practice eye contact in a safe space and with people you know so that it’s there for you when you need it. It helps to decrease stress and can aid in making a connection.

Initiate—but not too much

Talk to a few people—but no more than that. Make someone on the sidelines feel more comfortable, or compliment someone on their business card, their shoes, anything! Giving yourself little victories will help you feel ownership over this skillset!

Reward yourself

It sounds cheesy but giving yourself something to look forward to can alleviate a ton of pressure from the experience of networking. Treat yourself to dessert on the way home or bookend the event with fun plans (temptation bundling is a thing and it works!).

Let us know how these techniques work for you and join us on April 12th at Spark Labs for our networking masterclassclick here to register

Networking with Bespoken


Bespoken is a coaching firm based in New York City that is dedicated to helping people speak with conviction and communicate with confidence. We believe everyone has an innate ability to communicate powerfully and purposefully. The story of Bespoken began when two friends, Leah Bonvissuto and Jackie Miller, decided to channel years of professional theater experience into helping people be better, bolder communicators. Offering 1×1 coaching and small group masterclasses, Bespoken training is customized, on-your-feet and interactive. Rooted in powerful yet practical theater techniques, our work is designed to help you harness your innate ability to communicate effectively in any situation.
Can Soft Skills Be Taught?

Can Soft Skills Be Taught?


How to trick yourself into becoming a people person.

The necessity of effective communication skills, interpersonal skills, leadership, collaboration—soft skills, becomes clearer every day. Technology constantly shows us how we can be more efficient with our time, and our tolerance for wasted energy is sharply decreasing. In a survey by the Workforce Solutions Group, more than 60% of employers said that job applicants lacked “communication and interpersonal skills”, and ManpowerGroup’s annual global Talent Shortage Survey reveals that almost 1 out of 5 employers worldwide can’t fill positions because they cannot find people with soft skills.

According to Hyper Island, “the employee of the future needs to have exceptional interpersonal skills, fine-tuned verbal and visual communication abilities… They don’t need to know everything, they just need to connect with enough people so that together, the team knows everything.” Connect. If you read that and cringed, we at Bespoken have some good news for you: We passionately believe that how to have presence and soft skills can be taught. In fact, we believe that every one of us has an innate ability to communicate, and if you can learn how to optimize that ability, you will own your voice and connect in an authentic and powerful way. Follow these tips for effective professional communication to connect with others and make a lasting impression:


It Takes Practice

The only way to improve at anything is to do it and soft skills development is no exception. Start small and with people you are comfortable with or hire a professional development coach and practice in a safe space with a trusted outside eye. It will be uncomfortable, even daunting, at first but only because it is new and unfamiliar.


“The employee of the future needs to have exceptional interpersonal skills, fine-tuned verbal and visual communication abilities” – Hyper Island



We know that the art of public speaking doesn’t come naturally to 74% of us. Yet when we put ourselves in these very vulnerable situations—speaking in front of colleagues, walking into a room full of influential strangers—we don’t acknowledge it as a shared experience. Recognizing it will deflate nerves and open the door to more meaningful connections.

Go Outside In

Use eye contact as a tool to trick people (and yourself!) into believing you are cool, calm and collected on the outside, even when you’re jittery on the inside. Practice maintaining eye contact while taking deep breaths and releasing points of physical tension. Start with a good friend, then your deli guy and slowly work your comfort up to the professional level.


The next time you walk into a networking situation, make it a goal to connect with one person. Instead of just giving out a business card, search for ways to make a memorable, personal connection. Maybe you vacationed in the same place or share a mentor—focusing on the personal will help you be yourself and release the professional pressure.


Instead of just giving out a business card, search for ways to make a memorable, personal connection.


Put Yourself Out There

Stop avoiding situations that call for soft skills and instead, seek them out on your own terms. Listen to yourself, and build in temptation bundles: Eat something you love right after, or attend an event at a familiar or cherished establishment. Being proactive (and selective) will make you feel less like the situation is happening to you and more in control of the unknown.

Bespoken is a coaching firm based in New York dedicated to empowering professionals and entrepreneurs to speak with conviction and communicate with confidence through customized 1×1 and small group coaching. We believe everyone has an innate ability to communicate purposefully and powerfully.

Go Pitch Yourself at LMHQ on November 3rd

Go Pitch Yourself at LMHQ on November 3rd

DATE: 11/03/2015
TIME: 6:30 PM

FEE: $40

“You cannot think and hit at the same time.” – Yogi Berra

Communication is a skill. Have you honed it? Your expertise and enthusiasm for what you do make you uniquely qualified to speak about your work and your company.

Go Pitch Yourself is an interactive, on-your-feet masterclass where participants hone how to persuasively talk about what they do with potential stakeholders – think: lunch with an Angel Investor or coffee with the Director of Annual Giving at that huge foundation which actually read your LOI.

You’ll practice vocal and physical techniques that will help you make the impression you intended even in the toughest conversations. Together we’ll help you own your ideas and speak from the heart.

Given the interactive format of this event attendance is limited to 15 participants.

Register to Attend

What makes a great leader? It has something to do with a unique ability to see the world outside of yourself — to seek feedback, collaborate with those around you and see the bigger picture. Molly Reynolds is a great leader — we first met Molly when Bespoken co-founder Leah Bonvissuto directed a reading of her musical in NYMF. She is sharp, super smart, and a truly genuine voice. We were thrilled to contribute our tips on how great leaders own the room to this article Molly wrote on Here’s our tips for beating nerves and owning the room when speaking in public:

Do some self-sleuthing

Identify what makes your leadership style unique and acknowledge what throws you off your game: are you confident in front of large crowds, but shrink in front of smaller groups? Dissect negative past experiences as well as positive ones–take notes, dig for clues and seek feedback from trusted sources.

Embrace your #onlyness

What is that thing that only you can bring to the table? Flesh out not only why you do what you do, but also what you do differently than anyone else. Create a shortlist of words to pull from on-the-go that authentically represent your vision.

Find your voice

Anyone can learn to speak powerfully and purposefully–actors have been practicing how to speak with clarity and distinction for thousands of years. Take a class or work with a coach to learn how to be open and responsive, especially when the stakes are high.

Go back to your roots

Combat nerves in the moment by breathing deep and focusing on the physical–especially your feet. Your shoes should make you feel grounded. If those ballet flats aren’t making you feel powerful it might be time for some retail market research!

Embrace discomfort

Seek out opportunities to practice being uncomfortable–think of it as a muscle. Rehearse your speech while maintaining direct eye contact with a trusted friend. It may feel scary at first (so start small and in a safe environment!) but with practice and patience you can improve your discomfort tolerance.

And speaking of practice…

If you only run through it in hushed tones in your office, imagine how different it will feel when you need to fill that 500-seat hall. Seize any opportunity to practice full out (or in the actual space if possible) to minimize the unexpected and unfamiliar.

Keep it conversational

No one can follow your lead if they don’t know where you’re going. Establish communication that is direct, clear and compassionate. Even presentations can be framed in a conversational tone.

Seek feedback constantly

Understand the impression you’re making. Don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions. Asking “Is that clear?” for example, will show that you are open and proactive, and it will make your team feel validated and heard.

Connect with your audience

Picture someone who will be in the room and think: How do I want to make them feel? The simple act of putting yourself in their shoes takes you out of your own head and into the space around you, helping you form more meaningful connections.

A matter of time

Owning the room doesn’t come easy or overnight. Be patient with yourself and practice in a safe space to build your confidence before venturing into the outside world.

Public Speaking Announcement: Make a Connection

Public Speaking Announcement: Make a Connection

Many people believe that actors are great liars when, in fact, the opposite is true. Actors practice — they rehearse — to one end only: to be truthful. They spend countless hours in the rehearsal room connecting the dots. Dissecting the emotional life of the play until it makes sense to them. Not in their heads but in their bones. So that when they get onstage they can connect in the most truthful and unobstructed way possible. They practice and perfect authenticity. That is what they call technique.

We believe that these techniques can help anyone be more confident when speaking in any forum (networking, interviewing, pitching, presenting). But when the stakes are high, some of us have trouble connecting not only to others but also to ourselves. Nerves, bad past experiences and racing thoughts take over and we know — in our bones — that we are not being our most authentic, best selves. And that prevents us from connecting (it’s a pretty viscious cycle) when speaking in public. So, how can we learn from actors, who have been practicing and perfecting authenticity and connection in high pressure situations for thousands of years?

The performer-audience connection is unique and powerful.  Actors know that the stage is a magnifying glass — ideas delivered through words and movement must be precise, concise and clear.  Actors train in the least realistic environment of all — the stage — where the stakes are high, the lights are hot, and hundreds of strangers are watching you. Actors tirelessly develop their muscles — voice, body and mind — so that they can speak from a place of truth, clarity and distinction and train their bodies to be open and responsive.

A8GGx78CAAMUPHFWe studied at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in a method that encourages each actor to use their unique perspective to imagine the world of the play so completely that they are not acting at all but merely existing in a set of circumstances given to them by the playwright. Stella Adler believed that drama depends on doing, not feeling; feeling is a by-product of doing. You can’t do anything with a feeling — that’s why those feelings of nervousness, anxiety and tension can only hold us back when speaking in public. Stella’s approach relied on connecting strongly to each other by way of actions and creating a connection between “I and thou,” not between “me and myself.” In other words, we develop, practice and ingrain physical, practical techniques to jumpstart a connection between ourselves, the actors, and our audience.

But here’s the thing — an actor has to do the work to manifest an emotional connection to words and feelings that aren’t his but you don’t have to do that. You feel the connection. You know the words. It’s your story. You just need to tell it better. Clarify your intention. Articulate your ideas. Shape your message. Find your voice. Harness your strengths. Get out of your own way. Make a connection. Leave an impression. Own the room. 

Let’s Talk About Public Speaking

Let’s Talk About Public Speaking

Statistically, more people claim that they would rather die than give a speech.

If you have a fear of speaking in public, it’s little comfort to hear that you are not alone. But according to the National Institute of Mental Health, a whopping 74% of people admitted to experiencing Glossophobia — the fancy (and fun!) name for speech anxiety. So, why do we feel so alone, helpless even, when this totally understandable and common phenomena occurs?

If you’ve stood in front of an audience about to make a speech, presentation or pitch, you know just how terrifying it can be — and if you’re passionate about your topic, that fear may be magnified, even debilitating. If you’ve had a traumatic speaking experience in the past, it may come back to haunt you when you’re prepping or even presenting. It’s a cycle — we have a bad experience, we convince ourselves we’re incapable of overcoming what made it so darn hard the last time, and so we either avoid it all together or allow those fears to be the focal point the next time we do it, resulting in another bad experience and perpetuating the cycle. No matter how much we intellectually understand it, we make ourselves believe that it comes naturally to some people, just not to us.

In that case, it makes perfect sense that we feel so alone — the cycle doesn’t allow us to include the audience in the process. We feel afraid of the audience and, no surprise, that makes us feel even more alone. The trick is to learn how to use the audience, to see them as collaborators in sharing your story. It takes practice and planning, but a shift occurs, it is no longer you against them. They become your friends, your support — they become exactly what you need them to be in order to be your most comfortable and confident self in those moments that matter most.

And here’s a thing to consider: If 74% of us are terrified of speaking in public, then are the other 26% of us all rock-star presenters with no fear or self-judgment? Are only 26% of us presenting ourselves and our ideas effectively? I don’t think so. I think it’s far more likely that at least a portion of the people in your audience feel exactly the way you do, even admire your ability to reveal yourself to a crowd. That energy, if you can tap into it, can propel you — but you’ve got to be open to your audience to feed off of it.

The fact that most of us experience this and we’re not talking about it only feeds the fear — the collective fear — of public speaking. We’ve built this wall of expectation around speaking in public — it’s supposed to be something, and all we know is that the way we’re doing it is wrong. We can only see the failed attempt from our past or the perfect, nonexistent experience in some imaginary future. Our collective fear combines with our historical fear to make it impossible to live the present moment.

So let’s talk about it! Let’s deflate it and unpack it. Then let’s laugh about it as we present ourselves — flaws, fears and all — to an audience of people who know exactly how we feel — and who are cheering us on.


Bespoken is Here

Bespoken is Here

We are thrilled to announce the official launch of our new company, Bespoken!

Just over a year ago, we first sat down to discuss an idea for a company that would enable us to use our theater experience to help creatives, entrepreneurs, small business owners — anyone with an idea and a passion — speak authentically, comfortably and confidently in front of an audience.

We’ve spent a lot of time over the past 12 months discussing what makes the audience-speaker connection uniquely powerful. We found ourselves inspired by the idea of the individual, that one person possesses the ability to command an audience of 5 or 500.

Through one-on-one coaching and workshops in small group settings, we help speakers organize and shape their ideas and teach them to use their voice and body to engage an audience of any size when networking, pitching or presenting.

We’re passionate about helping people find new perspective and confidence by fostering what makes them capable of telling their story in a way no one else can.

Please take a moment to visit our website, follow us on Twitter, spread the word to your network or contact us for a free consultation.

Our deepest thanks to all of our friends and colleagues who have provided us with invaluable advice, guidance, and support as we journeyed to this point – your faith in our new venture means the world to us.

Here we go!

Jackie & Leah