Funny how small talk requires a rather lengthy guide 😜.
‘Small talk, long talk, what does that even mean?’ This question was one of my responses when I held an Instagram poll on this topic. The other funny response included, “Well, when it stops, it stops!” It is true, though; there is nothing more awkward than standing amongst people who run out of common ground and comment on how extravagant the weather seems, even if it’s just grey sky and clouds.
However, networking is an important skill needed to navigate some aspects of life, and some of these aspects could prove vital to your career. So here I am, providing a small talk guide which will build your confidence and help you master your social skills and be a pro at small talk bonding.
What Is Small Talk?
Small talk is the art of making absolutely no sense, yet starting a polite conversation lasting for 2 minutes and perhaps longer if the person is a meteorologist. It is declared to be a social skill, wherein this is the first-ever conversation you have with a stranger, to establish a base before getting to know each other. This trait comes alive while talking to new people at social gatherings and networking events.
Purpose Of Small Talk
Small talk is a conversation opener when you’re in a social gathering or a place where you get to build connections with people from your social circle. Even though it appears to serve no useful purpose, small talk is a bonding ritual and a strategy for managing interpersonal distance.
Small talk is related to the need for people to keep a cheerful face and feel accepted by those listening to them. These small gestures initiate the decision between two people to further their conversation for a longer time together.
Small talks depend on people; if it’s between an intimate couple, there is no need for small talk as they could be comfortable in silence. In between strangers, an awkward pause in the air could only mean an uncomfortable silence with a huge “What Next?” question.
How To Start Small Talk
Small talks can be intimidating, but we suggest you use some of our suggestions below to initiate one when stuck in this situation. These are some great tips to break the ice, and who knows, you could find some common ground to chat.
- What, Why and How – First things first, if it’s an unknown person, introduce yourself and start with some open-ended questions. The assertive person usually begins a conversation; if you feel the other person might not initiate one, and you want to, start with questions. You can ask them about their profession or interests and pave your way to understanding their presence.
- Listen and Learn – It is not polite to zone out during a conversation, especially when it’s small talk. Listen to the person so you can ask more questions about them, and when they see you seem engaged, it forms a good impression.
- Put Away Your Phone – It is rude to be on your phone on any occasion when another person is talking to you. We use our phones as a distraction from the sad evening we attend. Still, when a person senses our disinterest, it creates a rough impression, thus spoiling any chance for the conversation you could have had with a future connection. If it’s an emergency, always excuse yourself before running for the hills.
- Seek Advice – This is the best tip for introverts as we can look up to many people yet be intimidated by their presence. We could lose an opportunity by not talking to them for fear of small talk, so you can always ask them about their experience and likely advice to follow after the hi’s and hellos. People love talking about themselves, so you’re safe from having to speak much, and they will keep your conversation flowing.
- Control Your Chatty Kathy – Small talks are a purpose to initiate a conversation with another person and mutually talk about your interests. However, when you launch into a topic of your liking, ensure that you don’t drone on and on until they have a common ground to resonate with; this only makes you part of the conversation.
- Body Language – Your body language is the tip of the iceberg to a starter conversation. Eye contact, genuine nodding, and leaning in to communicate interest will give an impression of interest to the other person. Nothing kills a pleasant conversation like the feeling that the other person is uninterested in what you’re saying.
Last but not least, know when to walk away. Observe your conversation flow and decide if your time is worth the conversation. Does the dialogue align with your interest, and is the listener engaged in your talk? There is nothing worse than one person chatting and the other person dozing off; it’s a damper for the other person. These tips help if you want to initiate a conversation and want to get out of one.
Safe Topics for Small Talks
Small talk conversation topics are generally less important than their social function. To avoid the conversation becoming too one-sided, someone initiating small talk will usually choose a topic for which they can assume a shared knowledge. These topics can also include their well-being and start with the weather usually.
The weather might seem the most cliche choice for all, but this is a classic. If the weather is hot, you can be like, “Well, today’s rather hot; I’m not a fan of this climate”, and the conversation could move on to their favourite weather and where they grew up to adjust to that weather, simple but effective.
Distance makes the heart grow fonder, and people who crib about travelling long distances might as well share their sorrow. So you can start a conversation by asking about their purpose at that social event, how far they come from, and the beauty of their location. This will lead to an exchange of similar places suggestions, thus fixing a date.
The best topic to find your common ground, do they like reading too or hiking? Seeing something familiar with your hobbies will encourage you to push the conversation further and discuss those habits. Maybe good suggestions might pass in between for you to find a different ending in a book they read.
Ask them first about their interests, what they do when they’re free, or if you see them wearing a fandom’s merchandise or item, ask about it. People love giving out show suggestions but never take them; that’s another topic. Discuss the genres you like and defend your TV show characters; this could be fun.
Food, If they don’t like eating in general, run! Just kidding, that’s just tough then. Everyone loves food, so you can talk about preferences and the typical “What do you cook?” questions. You can discuss places to go to and if their dessert choice is fantastic, slyly invite them to a buffet to judge their eating capacity.
If you’re at a formal social gathering, add this topic at the top of your head, as this connection could benefit you in the long run. Do not ever start with the stereotypes of a job; instead, ask them exciting questions, so they too like talking about it, and you can also ask them advice which could benefit you in the future.
This topic might seem a little out of hand but has every chance of success, as this is an opportunity for you to learn something new about a whole concept, and for them, it’s the joy of sharing their culture. You can start this question by asking about their locality and how they grow up; it eases them into talking about their city culture, local delicacies, interests etc.
These topics are best for casual conversation openers, and they can be creative based on your humour, but let’s not go PG-13.
How To End Your Small Talk
Talking to strangers can be a nerve-wracking experience with the turbulence of emotions, which can be or not controlled in front of the said stranger, so we also provide you ways to exit the conversation without any awkwardness.
- This has been a great evening. I will have to take my leave now, would you like to give me your card?
- I’m glad I attended this event. It has been a very productive evening; let’s talk more about this project at our next event.
- My friend has been calling me for a while now; it’s great knowing you. See you around?
- I’m famished, so I’m just going to be at the buffet counter; see you around.
- I’m afraid I will be late, so why don’t we reconnect at the next event? Have a nice day.
Ending Our Small Talk Guide
Small talks are necessary when your goal is to build connections. You have to engage frequently with people until you’re the assertive person in a conversation. But, if you feel uncomfortable or bored during your exchange, follow the opposite of this guide, and you’re good to go.
Small talks can be excruciating or exciting depending on the person you interact with, so when you enter a room of strangers, empty your mind of judgement and keep it open for an experience.