Small talk

Photo: Coffee at Pottery Tsuboya, Naha, Okinawa, 2017


  • Art/ Apps
  • Business/ Books
  • Current Affairs/ Charities
  • Disruptive Tech/ Dream Destinations
  • Family/ Fun
  • Good food – Cooking/ Restaurant
  • Family
  • Here and Now/ Host/ Hobbies/ Holidays
  • Internet of Things
  • Job
  1. How are you related to the host? Are you related from the bride’s side or groom’s side? (At a wedding)
  2. Does your family have any “secret” or famous recipes?
  3. What’s your favorite restaurant that others don’t know about?
  4. How’s the family?
  5. What do you usually do on weekends?
  6. I am starting a book club, any good books you recommend?
  7. Any books you recommend to get into your field?
  8. Do you prefer city vacations or relaxing on the beach?


I am/ My (niece/son) is interested to get into this [profession]. Do you have any advice for me/ I should pass on?”

“ How did you decide to get into [X field]?”

“I read about +++++ [Y detail about job] in +++++. Has that held true in your experience?”

“Which skill do you use the most in your work? Was that what you expected?”

“What’s the stereotype of a [job title]? Does it hold up?”

“Is there anything you didn’t anticipate about this role starting out? Do you like or dislike that?”

“What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received? How about the worst?”

More tips on small talk or ice breakers for your next event:

Career fairs are around the corner. Job search especially networking can be stressful. Why attend when we can read online company info?

Make your presence felt at these pivotal moments. Practice in small doses to acclimatise your amydala. The ability to ask insightful questions reflects an intelligent mind.

Ask not questions from available open source material such as company website, Hoover, Bloomberg etc. Demonstrate the extent of your research by asking insightful questions.

Note that timing is important when asking questions. The questions below only serve as a guide. Use your judgment as to when you should ask the questions. Pay attention to the “flow” of the conversation to avoid the conversation sounding awkward and abrupt.

Questions about the company

  1. Where do the great ideas come from in your organization?
  2. How will you measure success?
  3. Between two equally-qualified candidates, what’s the deciding factor whom to hire?
  4. How do you encourage creative thinking within your organization?
  5. What do you want to see accomplished in your team/ department/ company in the next 3 to 6 months? What would be ideal outcome or key performance indicator?
  6. What impact, if any, has Web 2.0 made on your organization or you personally?
  7. What is the biggest challenge facing your industry today?

Questions to the speaker at a personal level

  1. Can you share what insights impacted you most personally as a leader? Was there someone who was a mentor to you? In what way was this person an impact on your life?
  2. Is there any way I can be of help to you right now?
  3. What advice would you give someone going into this industry for the first time?
  4. What do you like to do? (Instead of what do you do?)

Don’t crowd the CEO of the company. Younger company reps may have more relevant advice since they were  in your shoes, not too long ago.

News-worthy events

  1. How do you read the impact of a [XXXX] on your industry?

Questions to the speaker

Michael Hyatt is one of my favourite gurus. Do check out his website and podcasts.

  1. What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organization?
  2. As an organization gets larger there can be a tendency for the “institution” to dampen the “inspiration.” How do you keep this from happening?
  3. How do you or other leaders in your organization communicate the “core values”?
  4. How do you encourage others in your organization to communicate the “core values”?
  5. How do you help a new employee understand the culture of your organization?
  6. What is one characteristic that you believe every leader should possess?
  7. What is the one behavior or trait that you have seen derail more leaders’ careers?
  8. What resources would you recommend to someone looking to become a better leader?
  9. Could you share some of the resources you use to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?
  10. What are some of your go-to resources for guidance in your field of work?

What other questions would you add to the above list?  Pls comment below.

Happy Networking and career success.

Goldman Sachs | Careers Blog – 2017 Back-to-School Reading List

Bill Gates recommends:

Mark Zuckerberg recommends:

Elon Musk recommends:

Can’t finish all of them? Start a book club at your school or company.

Not sure how to form a book club?
Check this out:
“A year of reading :a month-by-month guide to classics and crowd-pleasers for you or your book group”
By Elisabeth Ellington, PhD & Jane Freimiller, PhD. – National Library

This is a neat trick to try while waiting for food to arrive at the restaurant.

Pick any digit and write it down three times. Perhaps you’ve chosen 333 or 888.

Add the 3 digits together:
3 + 3 +3=9 or
8 +8+8= 24

Now divide your original three digit number (333 or 888) by the sum of the digit (9 or 24).

You will get an answer: 37

Why is that so? It is a universal truth. 37 is a prime number.

From “Things to make and do in the Fourth Dimension” by Matt Parker


At a recent lunch with friends of over 15 yrs, in a somewhat reflective mood I asked, “What advice would you give your younger selves?” Surprisingly, these ladies in their 50s did not dismiss my question but spent time seriously musing over it. At last, one gave up and said, supposing you got past the problem of time travel, you won’t listen to your own advice. To which, another replied, “the idea is not to pontificate, but to then heed your own advice, and live your life differently”.

I’ve since used this as an ice breaker, among people I know well, and who would not mind being in a reflective mood. Use this with caution, as the mood, time, place, comfort level makes a difference.

What was the general conclusion: Take more risks and have more fun.

This reflective journey I am about to embark, tangentially aligned with the passing of LKY, whose shadow loomed heavily in the background of our growing up years, and especially the first 8 yrs of my career. I will in the course of 29 posts, write these reminders as gifts to myself, sign-posts if you may, for the next lap of my journey. I’m taking a pit-stop.


From Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Browning

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep


Why 29 gifts?

29 gifts is the title of a book by Cami Walker, who at 35 yrs old, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a neurological condition that made it difficult to walk, work or enjoy her life as she once had. Walker became depressed as she faced continual health and money problems. But then a friend and spiritual mentor challenged her to stop feeling sorry for herself and instead start giving to others. The friend challenged Cami to give 29 gifts to others in 29 days. (Huffington post).

The day I decided to write the post, the random bible verse reading for the day was:

Jer 29: 11 –  For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Proverbs 29

Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy

A man who loves wisdom brings joy to his father,

By justice a king gives a country stability, but those who are greedy for bribes tear it down.

25 Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.

26 Many seek an audience with a ruler, but it is from the Lord that one gets justice.


1. Where are you from

2. What skills you bring

3. How I first became interested (in this area of focus)

4. Where you’d like to be

Sample A

HELLO (XXX), my name is (_____________).  I’m a second year student in (XXXX University, studying (____________________).   I hope to pursue a career in  (____________________).

When I was 15, I was first introduced to the social sector by volunteering at a National Library Board programme known as ‘kidsREAD’. I got to interact with children from different backgrounds, and I saw how my weekly two-hours had a hand in nurturing these children. I saw how some initially shy children would slowly warm up to you, sometimes taking as long as five sessions. I saw how the bolder ones became more confident. In the three years I volunteered for kidsREAD, I saw children who were barely recognise words, stand in front of everyone, confidently reading out loud. I developed patience and understanding through interaction with children. Amidst the sessions, I learnt to deal with unforeseen circumstances and calmly take actions to curb them. I can confidently say that with my experience in dealing with children through my years of volunteerism and internship will push me to achieve excellence in this sector. (JJVQ)

Sample B

Someone who wants to start her own company

Hi good morning, my name is  XXXXXXXX. I am currently pursuing a degree at XYZ   University. I have a passion in designing, marketing and advertising. I am currently a freelance graphic designer and worked with companies like XX, YY, ZZ. Over the years, I’ve also been improving myself by learning how to do web design, and I’ve been helping several SMEs with their corporate website.

I major in Entrepreneurship during my study at ABC College  and have since been very keen in starting my own business. During my internship with Youth Enterprise Academy, I was mentored by the CEO who shared with me  the importance of delivering value to my clients. With knowledge in finance, marketing, accounting, operations and all aspects, I am really looking forward to starting my own business in the near future, and right now I’m looking for opportunities to expand my network and looking forward to more collaborations. (LMYG)

Havard Business School 

1. Describe who you are

2. Describe what you do

3. Why you’re unique (what do you offer that others don’t)

4. Describe your goal (what are you asking of the listener)

Sample C

Information Systems

Hi My name is XXX.  I am an undergraduate student of XYZUniversity majoring in Information Systems Management. Additionally, I am taking up Organizational Behavior and Human Resources as my 2nd major.  My focus is in pursuing the alignment of business and information technology across business functions within the organization. For instance, during my recent internship with AXXX  Consulting, I had worked on a project with the business performance department to improve the existing working process.  Despite being an intern, the company adopted my recommendations, and was able to reduce their operational costs by 20% last year. Knowing that  (your company)  has a similar department, I hope to make similar contributions.  (WT)

Sample D


My name is XXX and I am a second year XYZ University student undertaking a double degree in Accountancy and Business. I enjoy accountancy and  I am known for my ability to deliver quality work and yet maintain good ties with my coworkers.  Recently I led a team of 18 to organise an event attended by more than 2,000 students. Not only was the event well received, I was able to earn the respect of my peers because I believe in practicing what I preach, and setting a good model for others.

Sample E

Hello. My name is  XXX. I am an undergraduate at ABC  University studying accountancy. I will be graduating in 2 years times and will be looking for an auditing role in an assurance and advisory company in China.

When it comes to work, I have an eye for details.  This is exemplified during one of the audits I did with my assurance and advisory team at the University Club.  During one of the financial audits we conducted, I discovered a lapse in the internal control of a club with a clean track record. This was an unexpected find, as other team members had checked the records and not noticed anything amiss. The lapse would have potentially opened up loopholes in the fund-raising claims.  Although it was a tiring process to reevaluate the effectiveness of the measures that were already in place, I realized the need to improve their controls. After a week of discussion, my team and I eventually came up with a new set of controls that significantly reduced the risks of the lapse happening again.

After I graduate, I hope to land a career in the assurance and advisory sector. With the experience that I have already gained from the school’s assurance and advisory team, I am certain that I will be able to make significant contributions to the organization.

Sample F


My name is XXX, I am an undergraduate in ABC  University pursuing a degree in law. I am very interested in the Legal Aid Sector in Singapore and hope to get a chance to intern at the Legal Aid Bureau. I am actively involved in the ABC’s Pro Bono Club which involves working with the underprivileged, unable to afford legal services, allowing me to understand the workings of the Legal Aid System.

Currently, I am also taking part in the University Court Friends Scheme (UCF) which involves us volunteers being attached to the various sectors in the Subordinate Courts. I am now attached to the Criminal Law Registry in the XXXX Subordinate Courts, assisting the various departments in administrative as well as hands-on work. Through this experience, I believe that I have developed better interpersonal skills due to the variety of people that come to the Crime Clinic to file complains. I believe that this is highly useful if I were to intern at the Legal Aid Bureau, as interpersonal skills are very important for people in the Legal Aid sector as most of the legal aid clinic’s “clients” would be underprivileged people and one needs to have the good interpersonal skills to deal with the different types of people that approach us. With all the soft skills that I have obtained though the various times I’ve volunteered to do Pro-Bono work, together with the knowledge I have gained through law school, I feel that if I get this chance to intern at the Legal Aid Clinic, I can learn a lot from this experience and maybe in the future decide to pursue a career in the Legal Aid Bureau. I hope you will consider giving me a chance to intern at the Legal Aid Bureau. (BC)

Sample G

Finance sector

Hi, my name is XXX. I am a first year ABC University student doing double degree in Business Management and Accountancy.

For instance, I love investing and analysing stocks to see stock prices fluctuate, and understanding the fundamental reasons behind them. This passion draws me to join the ABC University-Student Managed Investment Fund, interact with like-minded peers and seniors, monitor stocks in various exchanges, especially in  the Technology, Media and Telco Sector. Personally, I also manage a basket of stocks with an average 8% return.

Apart from investing, I like to be around people, and am actively involved in organising events, such as the inaugural ABC Scholars Camp. As the Finance Director of the Camp, I overlook all finance-related matters, accounting for all expenses and preparing budgets, working with the different teams.

Another event that broadened my perspective was my first Overseas Community Service project to Chiang Rai, Thailand. For the first time, I spent 2 weeks staying in rural villages, experiencing their simple pleasures and constructing a school for the children. This was a very fruitful and meaningful journey to give back to the community. (GZC)

Source: ST images

The ST often has interesting write-ups about international personalities especially Asian ones.  In a recent article by Susan Long on 18 March 2012, she interviewed retired Chief Economist of GIC, Yeoh Lam Keong.

What an unlikely fellow, amidst the swirling world of high finance and big money, booms and crashes, the ability to rise above it all. Yeoh’s philosophy of life was underscored by his farewell present from colleagues, a T-shirt reading “Buddha says: Stop wanting stupid shit!”

  • What’s your view on this article?
  • What helps you maintain sanity in the world of high finance?


Yeoh attributes Mr Lim Siong Guan, President of GIC, for drumming into him, the importance of being ready to meet the future.

  • What’s philosophy drives your work?


Yeoh’s top worries for Singapore today is whether its policies are social ready

  • What keeps you awake at night?


GIC’s chief economist Leslie Teo describes Yeoh as someone “never afraid to speak his mind even if his views were not popular or politically correct; he was not afraid to explore new and unconventional ideas. He always stood apart from the prevailing culture of the industry – big money, flashy, top of the world – by his concern for the average person and his simple tastes.’

  • How would your colleagues describe you?



Seen on Gretchen Rubin’s blog: The Happiness Project: Melcher to Gretchen Rubin:

1. What was the best moment of the entire trip?

2. What are two interesting things about China [or wherever] that the average person doesn’t know?

3. Tell me about one person you met.

4. Now that you’ve been there yourself, when you think of China, what’s the first image that comes into your head?

5. What was the hardest or most frustrating part of the trip?

6. Did anything go wrong that seems funny now? [I often remind myself of my Secret of Adulthood that “The things that go wrong often make the best memories.”]

7. What little, ordinary thing did you miss from your usual routine?

8. What did you learn about yourself?

9. Now that you’ve been to China, what are two other places you’d like to go?