Mastering small talk, or light and casual conversation typically with people you do not know well, is a useful skill in many social settings. Whether you are hoping to expand your professional network or get to know your significant other’s parents, having a knack for good conversation can help you deepen relationships and get to know people better. Try these small talk tips and examples to help you on your journey of mastering small talk.
Mastering Small Talk
1. Do Your Homework
Small talk can be much easier when you know a few things about the people you are hoping to make conversation with. While it is impossible to prepare for every small talk encounter you will have, finding out some light background information can help reduce any pre-event jitters. Try asking about mutual friends, recent company news, or other background information you know to get the conversation started.
2. Have A Few Go-To Topics or Questions
Once you have done a bit of research, having some general questions or small talk examples at the ready can also help you master small talk. A recent study from Harvard Business School found people who asked initial questions and follow-up questions were found more likeable when networking. These types of questions can help you break the ice with new people and help you get more comfortable with small talk. While general topics to bring up will vary by the situation, a few small talk examples include:
- News and current events: Are there any new and relevant news updates that most people have heard about? Keep in mind that politics or other controversial subjects may not be inviting topics to connect on.
- A person’s job: What is their profession and how did they get into that field?
- Arts and entertainment: Has this person read new books, or seen popular TV shows or movies?
- Hobbies and interests: What does this person do for fun?
- Sports: Are there local sports team who are having a successful year?
- Travel: Is this person planning any trips or been on exciting vacations lately?
3. Be Aware of Body Language
Body language plays a big role in communication. When engaging in conversation with new people, be aware of your body language by paying attention to your posture, facial expression, and gestures. A few ways to present positive nonverbal cues when engaging in small talk include:
- Making eye contact
- Displaying positive body language signs by avoiding crossing your arms, or touching your face or hair during conversation
- Standing up tall rather than slouching
- Maintaining about two to four feet between you and the other person to avoid entering their personal space
Remember that good conversation is a two way street: a conversation consists of both speaking and listening. When trying to master small talk, attentively listening to what the other person has to say is one of the biggest keys to making a positive connection. The Harvard Business Review cites the following as ways to become a better listener:
- Take interest in what the other person is saying. Rather than focusing on what you are going to ask them next, take in what they are saying and ask follow up questions.
- Catch yourself when your mind wanders and redirect your attention to the other person.
- Stop talking, and give the other person a chance to speak.
- Do not let your emotions get in the way. Rather than speaking up immediately when you have an emotional response to something, keep your emotions to yourself and let that person finish their statement.
While small talk may be challenging at first, it can be a great way to expand your network and make way for deeper and more meaningful conversation. Now that you’ve worked towards mastering small talk, check out these simple steps to becoming a morning person, and how to use breathing to reduce your stress.