Making small talk is the art of engaging in light conversation. It’s an important social skill that usually includes casual banter and pleasantries that don’t delve into any significant issues or emotional topics.
While it may seem like a trivial chore to some, it counterintuitively serves as a stepping stone to deeper, more meaningful connections and better conversations overall.
“The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when someone asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.”– Henry David Thoreau, on the power of genuine and attentive conversation.
According to the International Journal of Business Communication, small talk skills transcend cultural and language barriers and can help you quickly establish rapport and trust with new people.
But, despite the importance of casual conversation, many people make the mistake of avoiding small talk at all costs and think that it gets in the way of deeper conversation. They may also fear awkward silences, worry about saying the wrong thing, or simply don’t know where to start when it comes to initiating conversations.
If you’re one of the many people that goes to networking events to hear the talks, but avoids the schmoozing, then this guide will provide you with a step-by-step approach to help you.
What Is Small Talk?
Making small talk is the act of engaging in casual conversation about non-controversial topics. It’s often used as a way to break the ice between two individuals who don’t know each other well or to fill awkward silences during social interactions. Small talk can also serve as a tool to build rapport and form connections.
Why Is Small Talk Important?
Small talk may seem superficial, but it plays a crucial role in social interactions. In essence, what seems like friendly chit chat, is actually the gateway to deeper and more meaningful conversations, and it’s an important tool for those trying to make new friends as an adult.
Some Of The Benefits Of Engaging In Small Talk Include:
- Making new friends and connections
- Building rapport with colleagues and clients
- Making social events more interesting and enjoyable
- Feeling less awkward with new people and acquaintances
- Gaining a deeper awareness and understanding of social cues
- Improving your communication skills through practice
- Boosting your confidence and self-esteem
What Are Some Good Topics To Initiate Small Talk?
While these topics may seem mundane, they can provide a safe ground for two individuals to start a conversation, get to know each other better, and connect on a basic human level.
- Hobbies And Interests
- Vacations And Travel
- Sports Or Local Teams
- News Or Current Events
- Music, Concerts, And Performers
- Work, School, The Current Location
- Mutual Friends And Acquaintances (Avoid Gossip)
- The Weather (Everyone’s Favorite)
How To Make Small Talk Step By Step
Here are some tips to help you navigate casual conversations, without the awkwardness.
1. Ask An Open Ended Question
One of the easiest ways to start a conversation is by asking a question. The key is to ask open ended questions that require more than a yes or no answer and encourages the other person to share more information and keeps the conversation flowing. For example, if you’re at a bookstore, you could ask the person next to you for book recommendations.
2. Talk About Upcoming Events And Fun Social Activities
Discussing upcoming events and fun social activities can be a good way to set the tone and direction of a conversation. These could be events related to your current setting, personal plans, or popular events. For instance, if you’re planning a trip, you could mention your upcoming travel plans or ask if they know of any good places to visit this time of year.
3. Be Funny
Being funny can be a great way to break the ice and make small talk more enjoyable. You could make a light-hearted comment or joke about your surroundings, the situation, or even the weather. Just make sure your humor is appropriate for the situation and won’t offend the other person.
4. Comment On The Surroundings
Talking about the immediate surroundings and what’s going on around you can be a great way to quickly find common ground with someone new. This could also be something you noticed on your way to the location, an interesting piece of decor in the room, or even the music playing in the background.
5. Share Something About Yourself
While it’s important to ask questions and show interest in the other person, don’t forget to share a bit about yourself too. This could be something as simple as your plans for the weekend, a book you’re currently reading, or a hobby you’re passionate about.
6. Be Genuine
People can tell when you’re not being authentic, and it can turn them off from the conversation. Show genuine interest in what the other person is saying, respond thoughtfully, and be yourself. Remember, the goal of small talk is not just to fill the silence but to also find common ground.
7. Practice Active Listening
Active listening is a crucial part of all effective communication. This means not just hearing the words the other person is saying, but truly understanding and responding to them. Show that you’re engaged in the conversation by nodding, maintaining eye contact, and giving appropriate responses.
8. Assume The Best In People
Approaching the conversation with a positive mindset can make you feel more relaxed and help the conversation flow more naturally. Everyone has a story to tell and by assuming the best in people, you open yourself up to learning more about their unique experiences and perspectives.
9. Be Open And Approachable
Non-verbal cues play a significant role in communication. When making small talk, ensure your body language is open and approachable. Maintain eye contact, stand or sit upright, and avoid crossing your arms. These non-verbal signals can show the other person that you’re engaged in the conversation and open to connecting with them.
10. Ask Deeper Questions
Instead of sticking to surface-level topics, try asking more profound, open-ended questions. This can steer the conversation towards more meaningful subjects and allow for a more genuine connection. For example, instead of asking “What do you do?”, you could ask “What’s something you love about your job?”
11. Ask For Personal Stories Or Opinions
People generally enjoy sharing personal stories. Asking for these can help you bypass small talk and delve into more engaging conversations. For instance, instead of asking “Have you been on vacation recently?” you could ask “What’s the most memorable trip you’ve ever taken?”
12. Avoid Controversial Topics
While it’s good to steer away from mundane topics, it’s also crucial to avoid controversial ones, especially in a first-time or casual conversation. Subjects like politics, religion, and personal finances can quickly turn a light-hearted chat into a heated debate.
13. Embrace Silence
Don’t fear lulls in the conversation. Silence is natural and gives both parties a chance to process the conversation. Instead of rushing to fill the silence with more small talk, take a moment to reflect on what’s been said and where the conversation could go next. A simple open-ended question or a genuine compliment can be a great way to gracefully resume the conversation and steer it in a positive direction.
14. Improve Your Communication Skills And Understanding Of Social Cues
Improving your overall conversation skills and ability to can help you feel more confident and less reactive to the conversation. This includes being mindful of non-verbal cues and social cues, focussing on active listening, asking thoughtful questions, and learning how to express empathy. With practice, you’ll be better equipped to navigate any social situation, whether it involves small talk or deep conversations.
15. Know When To Exit The Conversation
While it’s important to engage in small talk, it’s equally important to know when to exit the conversation. If the conversation is becoming forced or the other person seems disinterested, it’s okay to politely excuse yourself. You can simply say something like, “It was nice chatting with you, but I need to get going. Have a great day!”
Why Do People Avoid Making Small Talk?
Small talk, while seemingly innocuous, can be a source of social anxiety for many. Some people find it awkward, tedious, and pointless, while others feel it’s fake, inauthentic, meaningless, or superficial.
For introverts or people who have never learned social skills, casual conversation in general can be particularly draining as they tend to prefer deeper, more meaningful conversations. It’s also common for some individuals to feel trapped or vulnerable during small talk, especially if they’re not skilled at it.
It’s important to remember that these simple conversations serve a major purpose in our social interactions, and they can be used to help us establish rapport, gauge compatibility, practice and improve our social skills, and transition into more substantial conversations.
Small Talk Can Have A Big Impact On Your Life
Small talk can be more than just a polite way to fill silence. It’s a stepping stone to deeper connections, a tool for building rapport, and an opportunity to learn more about the people around you. By implementing these strategies, you can turn friendly chit chat into meaningful conversations that leave a lasting impression.
How To Make The Most Of Small Talk
- Ask open ended questions to encourage conversation
- Talk about upcoming events or shared interests
- Use humor to lighten the mood and make the conversation enjoyable
- Comment on your surroundings or recent experiences
- Share something personal about yourself
- Show genuine interest and practice active listening
- Maintain open body language and be approachable
- Know when to exit the conversation gracefully
No matter how daunting it may seem at first, remember that like any other skill, making small talk gets easier with practice. So go out there, start those conversations, and watch as they open doors to new friendships and opportunities.
Achieve Social Success With Jaunty
If you’re looking for ways to improve your social skills further, Jaunty is here to help. As experts in social intelligence and communication skills training, we offer resources designed to help you navigate social situations with ease and confidence.
We believe everyone has the potential to enhance their communication skills and enrich their social life. Drawing from psychology, philosophy, neuroscience, behavioral sciences, and our own extensive experience in the field of social dynamics, we’ve developed proven techniques that make people skills learnable for anyone.
Whether you’re a business professional, a single looking to mingle, or someone who wants to overcome shyness, Jaunty can help you go beyond your current capabilities and achieve social success. Our experienced social instructors have helped thousands of individuals like you exercise their social skills and unlock their full potential.
- Understand the principles of effective communication
- Build confidence to handle every social, business, or personal situation
- Develop an understanding of social cues and non-verbal body language
- Navigate conversations smoothly, from small talk to deeper discussions
- Create positive first impressions and establish meaningful connections
Don’t let the awkwardness of initiating small talk hold you back from achieving your social goals. With expert social skills coaching, guidance from our community, and some practice, you can turn every conversation into an opportunity for connection. Start your journey towards social skills success with Jaunty today!