The Art Of Small Talk
Do you dread meeting new people, simply because you don’t know what to say? When you spot an acquaintance somewhere, do you hope they don’t see you, or pretend you don’t see them? Do you avoid going into social situations where you don’t know anyone?
Small talk is basically the type of casual conversation you have with strangers you just met, or with acquaintances that you rarely ever meet up with.
Most people suffer from painfully awkward interactions beyond their social circle of friends. Even though it is called “small talk”, the communication skills that you will acquire by talking to strangers are anything but “small”.
It helps you with personal and business success, especially if you’re in some kind of networking session or social situations where everyone is being friendly to each other.
Why is it important?
Many people see small talk as idle chit-chat, or time-wasting conversation, and they claim to only be interested in “Real and genuine” conversation that goes beyond superficial level. But they have never thought of how they get to that actual “real” conversation in the first place.
One does not simply go up to a stranger and ask, “Why is it that the world is so unfair?”
The way to view it is for small talk to be like a warm up session before the actual conversation, which is equivalent to a race.
Small talk is going to be the gateway in which you meet every single person in your life. Just by thinking about all the people you met or will meet in your past, present or future is simply huge. You’ll never know who you will encounter on the streets, at a party, at work, while shopping, if you never make the effort to approach and talk to them.
How to make small talk
First, you have to be the “Active” person in the conversation, and not the “passive” one. Start by taking the initiative to talk to other people, instead of waiting for people to talk to you. As you approach and talk to someone, learn to lead the conversation, introducing people to each other, and thus making your subject comfortable.
You will probably feel shy and insecure when approaching a stranger to converse with, but thing is, most people feel the same way as you. It is comforting for them when someone takes initiative to talk to them, especially when they feel awkward standing alone.
People usually love to speak (but too shy to initiate) about themselves, and will generally open up when someone talks to them first.
Small talk topics
The way to find topics to talk about varies with the situation that you met the person with. The easiest way is to talk about situational topics, like if you met the person at a sports bar, then the best topic will be to engage in conversation about the game.
Another example is if you met the person shopping, then you can probably ask for fashion advice, or talk about similar shopping outlets. Or, if you’re at a friend’s party, then a common topic to start will be to talk about how you met the host of the party.
After the “opening” conversation, then if you find that the topic doesn’t naturally branch out to other topics, there are many different types of “questions” that you can use:
What do you work as?
Where do you study?
How’s your week going?
How’s work treating you nowadays?
Think of these questions as just normal casual conversation, and you will probably think of plenty of similar examples if you put a little thought into it.
A good way to start the small talk is to observe the person, and throw him or her a compliment, following a question or a statement (or combine both!)
“That’s a nice shirt. Where did you get it? I’ve been dying to find a fitting shirt”
“I’m really impressed with the speech you gave just now. Did you take public speaking classes? I find myself suffering from stage fright”
Those are just some examples off the top of my head, and once again, when you see it yourself, you realize that the topics are nothing special or breathtaking. You probably can come up with a few compliments yourself.
Making yourself approachable
Instead of talking non-stop to the other party, try really listening to the person instead. Be interested in their life, instead of getting them to be interested in you.
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years trying to get other people interested in you.” – Dale Carnegie
The trick is to display friendly body language, like smiling, leaning forward, maintaining eye contact, good body posture, etc. A common problem that people face is they either fold their arms or keep their hands in their pockets. In non-verbal communication, folding your arms or keeping your hands means you are not open to them or just have something to hide.