How to master small talk
Have you ever wondered how come some people just walk into a social situation and start chatting to anyone about anything, keeping the conversation running without awkward silences and boring topics?
What if you could do the same?
Well, let me give you a few tips on how.
Small talks are something most people hate, yet when done right, it’s a wonderful way to get to know people and build a friendly atmosphere. Moreover, it’s really just a warm-up before you dive into propper conversations.
But if you’re not a social butterfly, I can imagine it can be daunting.
If it makes you feel any better, I used to be absolutely terrible at that, and it really bothered me because, without it, it’s hard to make new friends and connections. I started practising it, and soon I was able to speak to anyone without any fear and more importantly, without them or me feeling uncomfortable.
Here are my tips on how you can improve your small talk skills yourself.
1) Practice small talks everywhere
Let’s face it, you can’t improve without practice. Being good at small talks is a mixture of being able to initiate conversations to keeping good conversations flowing.
Leaving the practice for the actual networking events and parties is like not practising boxing until you enter the ring. I think we both agree that it would be foolish.
Small talks are no different.
If you really want to improve, do what I used to do when I worked on improving it. I had a goal to initiate a number of small talks a day. You can start with 1 and gradually increase the number to 10. It may sound like a large number, but it really isn’t. Look, to improve, you need to push yourself a bit.
I spoke to people at work, to shop assistant, cashiers, I messaged or called my friends or people I have not talked to for a while. Not only this will massively accelerate your improvement, but you’ll also improve your friendships.
The conversation can be short. A few casual sentences is a good start.
It’s small talk, not a “deep and meaningful.”
2) Stop trying to be interesting, but rather be interested
Many people feel a massive pressure when it comes to small talks because they feel like they have to be super interesting and entertaining.
Yet, the best way to kill a conversation is to make it all about yourself.
Think about it. A stranger shows up and starts talking to you about himself. You’d be like “Ermmm, I didn’t ask.”
But, if you want to get the person to engage in a conversation, be curious, ask them appropriate questions, shut up and listen.
3) Ask the right questions
The best questions are the ones that are relevant to what’s happening around. I call the situational questions. Just look around and ask something that makes sense.
“How do you know “name” (the host, the person who’s celebrating, performer, etc.)?
It can be a question about the place, the occasion, something that happened earlier or will happen.
A great way to start a conversation is to compliment something about the person and then ask them about it.
Keep it light.
Keep it relatable.
4) Build on or branch out of the small talk
When you touch on a topic, think about what would be the next logical question that is relevant to the last topic. Where could the conversation branch off to?
If you’re at a birthday garden party and you asked about how the person knows the birthday girl, and they said it’s through work, you can then ask:
– about what they do.
– how long they’ve been friends.
– how they met.
– if they’ve been to other garden parties.
– whether they are making the most of the summer.
The opportunities are endless, yet they are all somewhat connected to what you’ve just talked about.
Being genuinely curious while not being intrusive is the best approach.
People have amazing stories and know interesting things.
Tap into that, and they will do all the talking, and you will actually look like someone who is genuinely interested.
Just see it as getting to know someone.
5) Small talk topics to avoid
There are some topics that are just better to avoid initially as it usually totally alienates the conversation. I’ve been on both ends of it.
A) Talking about controversial topics. With topics like politics, religion, war, and anything similar where you can expect high polarity (and less understanding) you’re running into the dangerous territory of widening the differences between you two or even sparking an argument. That’s not going to help. This is not the time for you to be right or preach what’s right.
B) Giving advice. Occasionally you’ll speak with someone who has something on their chest and will share with you more about what they are going through. As tempting as it may be, resist to be a smart ass and start giving them advice (especially if you’re a coach. We are so guilty of this). Nothing wrong with you wanting to help. But firstly, you don’t know if the person is ready. Secondly, it’s most likely, not the right time and environment for it.
C) Deep Topics. Save your deep and meaningful convos for your discussion group or your friends. I was in situations where I was at a party and people started to talk to me about death, alien life, conspiracy theories, consciousness etc. I love all that stuff, but not when I’m out to have a good time. If someone says “Okayyyy, I’m going to join my friends now.” You’ve probably gone too deep.
6) If the small talk is painful, leave
Sometimes, small talks don’t go well even when you’re doing your best.
It may not be your fault. Sometimes people are just not interested or are plain boring or antisocial, or who knows. Don’t feel obliged to wrestle with them. Give it a good shot, and if you sense lack of interest, walk away.
Just say, “Okayyyy, good chatting with you, I’m going to join my friends now. See you around.”
You don’t need to explain anything. You’re not there to entertain anyone. If they are not up for it, leave them alone.
The above is a good start for you to start building small talk skill.
If you’re are looking for a magic line that will make you look fun and will turn you into a social butterfly, there is no such thing. Small talks is a skill and can quickly be developed. It just needs a bit of practice. If you’re shying away from it, my “from the heart advice” is – grow a pair! It’s only small talk. The worst thing that can happen is that people won’t talk much. Big deal.
Set a goal to initiate 100 small talks.
Keep track of it and see what works and what doesn’t.
After 100 small talks, you will be significantly better at it as well as more confident.
If you need the support of a life coach to help you with making a great first impression or with any other areas of your personal development, you’re always welcome to contact me and let’s find out if we’d be the right match.
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