How to small talk has always been a challenge for me. Mostly because I’m naturally introverted (like, very introverted) and I used to hate striking up conversations with people I didn’t know. It wasn’t until I worked for years in the film industry that I started to realize – small talk is essential for this business. The reason for that is because it’s based completely on networking. Don’t know how to network? You don’t get the job. You don’t pay the bills.
Not wanting to give up my dreams of working on film sets, I was basically forced into learning how to master this skill. What was once my worst nightmare, eventually became a way to make friends, make money, and find a loving partner. Basically this “nightmare” led me to everything I could ever want in life.
It is for that reason that I want to share with you guys 5 Easy Steps on how to small talk.
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How To Small talk like a pro in 5 easy steps
# 1 – changing your mindset
This is step number 1 for a reason. The reason you’re “bad” at small talk or “don’t like it” is because you’re not looking at it through the right lens. When I say I was deeply introverted, I mean it. When I was in University, I ate lunch alone in the library every day because I didn’t want to small talk around a group of people I didn’t know. It was easier for me to bury my head in a book and wait until lunch was over than strike up a meaningless conversation.
Is small talk uncomfortable? Yes!
I avoided small talk in University, not becuase I was insecure about myself or even shy. I just genuinely preferred spending my time alone rather than mingling with others. Little did I know, this was me choosing not to develop a skill that has become so valuable in my current life and something that I have used to get almost everything I’ve ever wanted.
Life is all about learning. Learning to develop the skills that you were not naturally born with and turning them into tools that allow you to improve your life and reach your goals.
Learning how to small talk is a skill that allows you to connect with people. You will feel happier and more confident when you can be in a room full of people you don’t know and you will foster better relationships.
Understand that small talk is for you, not for them
Small talk was the first conversation you had with your best friend. It was the first conversation you had with your boss. It was the first conversation you had (or will have) with the love of your life. Once you view small talk like this, you start to see how much it actually does for you.
Small talk is a stepping stone. A first step to getting things that you want.
All meaningful relationships that are not blood/family relationships started with a conversation that was simple. A conversation that was mundane and didn’t have a deeper meaning.
This means that small talking about the weather isn’t just entertaining someone for a moment. It’s a small time investment to see if the person you’re talking to might turn into an integral part of your life.
Just think: this person that just commented about the weather could be your new best friend. The one who buys you shots on your birthday when you don’t want them. The one that helps you move on a Tuesday. Responding with a “yeah, sure is nice out these days” doesn’t seem so bad when you look at it like that.
# 2 – Don’t talk
Talk to somebody about themselves and they’ll listen for hours.
Good ol’ Dale Carnegie came up with that quote decades ago and it will be true forever. Most people like talking about themselves, it’s their favourite subject. All you have to do to be a good “talker” or be seen as a “really nice person” is to be a good listener.
Being a good listener means that you actually hear what the person was saying. You’re not thinking “oh god I want to get out of here”. Or “man this party sucks, I totally should have bailed”.
Your mind is clear of inner thoughts. The person in front of you has all your attention.
Body language is extremely important for this step. Since you can’t say “yes I am listening and hearing you”, you have to “say” those things with your body. You nod and make facial expressions that respond the story. If they are telling you about the time they broke their leg, you cringe or open your eyes wide to show that the story is having an impact on you.
This will show them that you’re engaged in the conversation and it will encourage them to keep talking. You absolutely cannot be engaged in a conversation if your mind is occupied with negative thoughts. Just listen to the story and focus on that.
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#3 – HAVe genuINE INTEREST
This point is related to step 2 but I wanted to separate it and elaborate because it is SO IMPORTANT. This is the one step that will take you from an okay small talker to an AMAZING one. People might even refer to you as a real “people person” if you nail this one down.
One of the nicest ladies I ever met was a school teacher. I was chatting with her on a film set once because we were using her daughter in a commercial. This lady was (and I repeat) one of the nicest people I have ever met. I think we chatted for about thirty minutes and then I never really saw her again.
I seriously thought that I could trust this lady with all my deepest darkest secrets. That I could call her up one day and ask her to go for coffee and she’d say yes.
How could this lady make such an impression on me in such a short amount of time?
The answer is that she was geninunely interseted in everything I had to say. With every word that came out of my mouth, she repsonded with enthusiasm and intrigue.
The actual definition of enthusiasm is the following: intense and eager enjoyment, interest, or approval.
See how it says intense and eager? When you’re chatting with someone you don’t really know, the quickest and easiest way to gain their trust is to show enthusiasm. Yes, basically an exaggerated happiness to things they say. This doesn’t mean that you act “fake”, quite the opposite.
It means that you really want to hear their story and you’re not going to judge them. You respond positively and excitedly to whatever they tell you because you’re not judging them – you want to hear more.
“Wow you water ski? Damn that is so cool! I’d be way too nervous to do that.”
“Omg that’s your puppy?? He’s SOOO cute! I wish I had a puppy like that.”
“You do coccaine binges every weekend? Wow! You must love to party, what kind of music do you listen to?”
The other thing that made that lady so nice and awesome to talk to was that she showed intrigue. She was curious to learn more about all the things I talked about. So if I said that I was into mountain biking, she would ask follow up questions as though she wanted to take up mountain biking herself!
Imagine that your favourite thing in the whole world is knitting. You live and breathe knitting. Then you mention to me that you like knitting and I act as though I might want to do it myself. I ask questions like:
Wow, that’s so cool- what kind of stuff do you make?
Is it hard to learn, did it take you many years?
What’s something easy to knit that a beginner could do?
These questions all show genuine interest in your favourite topic. It’s going to get you talking and talking about how to knit and even if I don’t care at all about knitting, you do and this conversation is making you very happy.
Follow up questions show the person that you’d like to hear more about what they’re saying. You’re subconcisouly telling them “wow you’re interesting, tell me more, I’m interested in you”. That’s the nicest compliment a human can give to another human.
#4 – Memorize Some Converstation Starters
Ok here’s where we get down to the nitty gritty. This is the one step that really doesn’t feel natural and falls the most into a “learned skill” category. This one is pure memorization trying to remember these when you’re feeling nervous, shy and put on the spot. That’s the hard part.
The good thing about having some solid conversation starters is that you can always pull from them. If the conversation gets awkward or slows down, you can pull out one of these and be sure to continue the conversation for a few more minutes.
There are literally hundreds of these but I’ll share a few of my favourites and ones that I have used to get great results. Then you can even come up with your own, ones that lead into conversations you’re more likely to be interested in.
bad conversation starters
But before I tell you the good ones…I want to tell you some bad ones. I’m doing this because if you Google “conversation starters” a lot of them are really bad. I want to tell you why they are bad so that you can formulate good conversation starters and not get trapped using ones like these.
-Comments about the weather. Yes they are bad, I have used them in desperate situations but then quickly change the subject into something more interesting. For example:
Me:”man it sure is rainy today!”
Other person: “sure is, down-pouring.”
Here is where the conversation could die a slow awkward death. That is why this conversation starter is really bad unless you’re quick on your toes and ready to save it. I don’t like putting myself in situations where I have to save something at the top of my head so I really try to avoid the weather comments. Just for a little bonus, i’ll show you how i’d save this conversation.
Other person: “sure is, down-pouring.”
Me: “All the more reason to head to Mexico! For some reason I always end up booking my vacations in the summer time but really the rainy spring time is when I should be doing it. Don’t you think?
Now we can segway into talking about vacations. Conversation saved, but not easily.
Another bad conversation starter:
“What’s your story” or “Tell me about yourself”. These are bad because they are way too vague and put the person completely on the spot. If you actually said these in a conversation with someone, they would think you’re weird. What’s your story? Who says that. Always ask specific, but open ended questions.
good conversation starters
Here are some of my favourites. Remember that it’s best to try and match these up to your favourite topics so that you can expand on them. For example “seen any good movies lately” is a great one for me because I worked in the film industry and am passionate about filmmaking. Try to make your conversation starters match your interests.
Oh and one thing to note is that these starters are not “fancy”. They’re not like cosmo sounding cliche questions, they’re simple and easy statements that will help you talk to a real person. Here goes:
-Hey what kind of beer (or other drink) is that? I don’t think I’ve tried it. Or: “nice, you’re drinking (insert drink) that’s my favourite IPA”
-Hey haven’t seen you for a while, what’s new? still working at the same place?
-Hey I’m Lana, I don’t think we’ve met
-“What do you do for work?” – I always follow up this question with “nice, do you enjoy it?” That always opens them up to talking more about what they do and their life.
-Got any plans this weekend?
-So when you’re not working, what do you like to do for fun?
-Have you lived in (insert this city) forever or did you move here?
So on and so forth. The key here is to know that the conversation starters you choose just need to be simple and applicable to almost any situation. They are open ended but specific so as not to put the other person on the spot too much.
#5 – A Polite Escape
A small talk conversation can only go so far. If you are genuinely connecting with the person and having a good time, the “small talk” part of it will go away quickly and you’ll just be in a real conversation.
If not, it’s good to have a polite way to get out of the conversation so as not to make things weird. At a party, the best way to do this is to “go to the bathroom” or to “get a drink”, easy. Same goes for any networking event.
On a date, it’s best to have first dates on a weeknight, so that you can always say “well I better get going, I have work in the morning”.
It’s perfectly fine to end a conversation if you’re not feeling it. The fact that you started the conversation and tried the person out is all you need to do to make friends and meet people. No need to prolong the suffering, just be confident in your escape route and use it when necessary.
Thanks for checking out my post on how to small talk. This post contains excerpts from my latest e-book called “Small talk: How to Master the Art”. The ebook will be available on Amazon soon but I will be giving it out for FREE to subscribers to my blog. If you are interested in a free copy, fill out the form below to subscribe to my mailing list.
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