Small talk is the foundation on which every other type of conversation builds.
It requires skill, especially—but not solely—for introverts.
Small talk is what most of us do most of the time. We simply talk to each other without an agenda. We chat. We converse. We shoot the breeze.
Here are seven guidelines to help you become better at small talk
1. Be Prepared
Just because there’s no agenda doesn’t mean you can’t prepare yourself for small talk.
Before going to dinner with friends or to a networking event or to drinks after work with colleagues, think of things you might talk about.
Who’s going to be there? What do you know about them, their interests, and their recent activities? What would you like to know about them? What would you be interested in talking to them about?
2. Start with a Greeting
Sounds simple, right? Because it is.
Say “hello” and shake hands. If you’re with other people, make room for the person who’s joining you and introduce them.
3. Remember Names
Calling someone by name is a great way to acknowledge them and make them feel important.
4. Know What to Talk About
Small talk deals with issues and concerns that are safe and easy for everyone to talk about. So steer away from topics that might be controversial, embarrassing, painful, or personally invasive.
At social gatherings, you can talk about what brought them there or if they know anyone.
In a business setting (but generally not in a social situation), you can talk about their jobs or your job, and what they or you are currently working on.
You can always talk about the weather, future or past travel, drink and food (if you’re sharing a meal), interests, and entertainment (sports, movies, books)
You can ask about any issue they raise first. For example, if they mention a daughter, you can ask about her. And you can ask them the same question they first asked you.
5. Maintain the Flow
Small talk—like any good conversation—has an easy give and take to it. You talk some. I talk. You talk. I talk. It requires everyone involved to contribute something (to have something to say) and to listen (to allow the other person or people to say something).
6. Keep it Light
Small talk is about enjoying your time with another person for a moment. It may or may not lead to anything more—to a deeper conversation, to shared intimacies, to an ongoing relationship. And that’s okay. Having a pleasant time with others is a worthy goal in and by itself.
7. End it Gracefully
All you need to do is look the other person in the eye and say something like, “It’s been a pleasure” or “Nice talking with you” or “Have a great day.
In this world where everyone seems stressed and in a hurry, where conversations all too often turn combative, where personal interactions are judged by how useful or productive they are, small talk is an overlooked kindness. Try it.