A Guide On How To Make Small Talk
Whether you love it, loathe it, or simply tolerate it, small talk is an unavoidable part of many basic life tasks. Here’s how to do it better.
Katy Perry small talk
Small talk can happen anywhere – at your local butchers or a gala dinner, outside the school gate or at a cocktail party – but, depending on how you look at it, it can be like pulling teeth or actually make you smile. Research shows that more frequent small talk, even among those who identify as introverts, makes people happier. What’s more, when done right, it can lead to job opportunities, new friendships… it can even make your world bigger.


Preparation Is Key

Just like when you’re hungry and you ask yourself, ‘What do I want to eat?’, so too should you, when you’re preparing for a party or a networking event, ask yourself, ‘What do I want to talk about?’. Think about two or three things you’re comfortable discussing. These topics can be anything that’s interesting to you in the moment, and you may not even talk about them – but they are there if you need them. Worried you might forget what they are? Jot them down in your phone, just in case. Did you know in Georgian England, people noted down interesting things – like prose and poetry – in what they called “commonplace books” which they carried with them? They would then refer to them for interesting conversational gambits. Make a note a couple of topics and you’ll reduce performance pressure.


Flip The Small Talk Script

Tell yourself enough times you’re terrible at small talk or it’s pointless, and you/it will be. Instead, remind yourself that it isn’t as superficial as it seems. It serves an important purpose as it helps create the foundation for authentic conversations and deeper relationships down the road, but you need to build up to them. Think about it: do you really want to be accosted by a stranger asking, “So, what’s your relationship with God?” before the burrata starter comes out? Small talk can actually make your world bigger, opening it up to new possibilities, in interesting and unexpected ways.


Show Real Interest

We’ve all been in the situation where the person you’re chatting to keeps peering over your shoulder, searching for someone more interesting to talk to. It’s uncomfortable, unprofessional, uncaring and rude. As Iris Apfel says, “You have to be interested. If you’re not interested, you can’t be interesting.” Body language cues like eye contact, sincere nodding, and leaning in communicate interest. Smile, uncross your arms, pay attention and, for the love of things small and mighty, put your phone away. Nothing kills a pleasant conversation like feeling as if the other person doesn’t care about what you’re saying – particularly when they’re too busy checking their socials.


The Why And The How

Need a conversation starter? Ask some “why” and “how” questions. When you ask a “what” question, chances are you will get a simple answer, but when you ask a “why” question, you explore a person’s underlying motivation. For example, “Why did you think that happened?” yields a more thoughtful response than, “What happened?” Then, listen to the answer with genuine interest, and provide a thoughtful response. If you show true interest, you’ll invite further discussion. As the maxim goes, “Talk to a man about himself and he’ll listen for hours”.


Charmed, We’re Sure

Show us a truly successful person and we’ll show you someone who’s very good at making others feel extraordinarily good. Jennie Jerome, Sir Winston Churchill’s mother, once made this comparison between Mr Benjamin Disraeli with his great rival Mr William Gladstone: “When I left the dining room after sitting next to Gladstone, I thought he was the cleverest man in England. But when I sat next to Disraeli, I left feeling that I was the cleverest woman.”


Bottom line, people hardly ever remember the content of what you say, but they always remember the way you make them feel.


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