Tips for Mastering the Dreaded Small Talk

Small Talk

It’s happening. The situation we all dread has begun and you begin to panic: small talk! Whether it’s a casual conversation with a new friend, awkward first date, or networking for a job, we all will, unfortunately, encounter this situation. It takes a lot of practice, but with some helpful tips we can all master small talk.

#1: Know Your Settings!

It’s important to keep in mind what setting you are in when small talking. Something you might talk about with a date or a friend might not be an appropriate topic to talk about in a more professional setting. This might seem like an obvious first step, however I have seen people mention inappropriate subject matters in a professional setting. Such as views on religion, race, and politics. These topics might be fine to talk about with a new friend or on a date, but they are taboo in the professional world. NEVER talk about these subjects; if the other person brings up these subjects try to not delve into too much detail about it, because it has potential to insult the other person if you both have opposing views. That could really harm your work and/or networking opportunity.

#2: Body Language

Having an open body language is extremely important when making small talk. It makes the other person feel more comfortable around you and makes the entire experience a little less awkward. Make eye contact: when you’re conversing with someone, make sure not to look at your feet or especially your phone. Texting, emailing, or checking your social media sites in the middle of a conversation is considered extremely rude when someone is trying to converse. So make sure that phone is tucked away! Also, try not to cross your arms. Keep an open stance towards the person as much as possible, making the person know that they have your attention.

#3: Listen!

Again, you’re probably thinking: “Isn’t this an obvious tip?” But I know, better than most, that it can be very easy for your mind drift off when someone you barely know, is talking about redundant and obvious subjects, and even sometimes subjects you don’t even care about. You need to stop yourself though! Listen to what the person is actually saying, and keep your mind firmly in place. Even if you really don’t care about the subject matter, it could be the driest piece of conversation you have ever heard in your entire life, however the other person obviously cares about the subject. It’s only fair that they can talk about something they find interesting, because when the tides are turned, maybe your topics are the driest thing they  have ever heard. Also, you might find something in common when you are attentive to what they are saying. Which brings me to my next point…

#4: Common Interests

When you’re small talking and then suddenly you find something in common, it is like “Hallelujah! We can now talk for ages about this one thing!” It might be difficult to find a common interest, so just start off by talking about music, movies, and books. I have found that this is a good platform to start off with; the subject is light and positive, and there is a good chance that you will find something in common.

#5: Don’t Be Afraid to Play the Weather Card

Everyone always pokes fun at the “Weather Card”, as I like to call it. Talking about the weather in small talk might be cliché, it might be dry, and it might be the most redundant topic to talk about. However, it still works. When things are getting tough, you’re running out of things to say, the awkward silence is getting more frequent and more deafening, that is when you pull out the Weather Card. I have found that this helps boost some of the conversation, the person on the other side of the conversation will probably be glad as hell that you mention it. Then, two of you can go on and on about how outside is so beautiful or completely horrible forever, until either of you think of a better topic to talk about.

#6: Ask Questions

It’s always good to try to find out more about the person you’re talking with. Ask questions about where they work, what do they do, where they went to college, etc. Also, keep your setting in mind still. It’s important to ask more professional questions if in the workplace/networking, while if you are talking to an acquaintance or a date the questions can be more casual, such as “What kind of books do you like?”, “Did you like this movie?”, “Have you seen this show the other night?”.

#7: Be Aware of Surroundings

Surroundings always play an important part of small talk. If you are in a restaurant, you can comment on the food, and the ambiance, if you’re outside then feel free play the Weather Card to your heart’s delight, and comment on what the person is wearing/holding. There are conversation cues everywhere, so its important to be aware of what is around you.

#8: THE END

Last, but not least, we come to the end. The end of the conversation; right now, you’re probably having a huge celebration that you survived. Either way, the conversation is coming to a close, and you need to finish strong! Indicate that you had a good time talking, and you would like to talk/meet again (doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, it’s polite), mention that you have to get going, and then close with a solid classic “goodbye.” I always say the same thing: “It’s been great talking to you, but I have to get going. We should hang out again sometime.” And then they usually say something along the same lines, finished with both of us saying “Bye” and thus departing.

Sure, these tips seem obvious probably at the moment, but when neck deep in awkward conversation it’s good to remember certain points that could save you. Small talk isn’t easy. It may come naturally for some, but for others (myself included) it’s difficult to make light conversation usually about nothing at all; I know that I enjoy deeper conversation, but small talk is inevitable. It takes practice, but when you do practice, it gradually becomes easier and easier. When small talk becomes easier, the dread of it will slowly fade away.

Feature Image: Iliyan YankovCreative Commons

Karli Burns
I'm currently a tea-addicted student studying English and Russian at a SUNY. When I'm not writing, I can be found listening to obscure folk punk and reading the fabulous Gogol. Moon gazing is an art, eating tacos is my pride, and all I want is to be able to put my foot behind my head (haven't been successful so far).