10 steps to mastering the art of small talk (and building meaningful connections)

Ugh. Small talk. Even just the thought of it evokes a certain kind of anxiety in me. 

If you’re like me, a normal human being who has had small talk, you probably know that feeling.

But here’s the thing: small talk isn’t actually all that bad. At least, it shouldn’t be.

Mastering the art of small talk can be beneficial for a lot of things in your life: from your professional life, social life, down to your personal relationships. 

Interested to learn more? Read on to find out the 10 steps to mastering the art of small talk!

1) Stay informed

Starting small talk can be tricky, especially in person. 

You definitely can’t just ask them, ‘wyd’ or ‘’sup’ as this can often seem insincere and makes you look like an uninteresting person.

However, the wonderful thing about small talk is that you can talk about literally anything under the sun. 

If you’re not skilled in the art of small talk, choosing a topic can be tricky. 

For starters, you can try to inform yourself about current events, the weather, maybe the most popular netflix show at the moment, or even the hottest trends in fashion. These are very common and easy topics to talk about during small talk

Knowing who you’re talking to might also help you choose topics that might interest them. However, if you don’t know them, being observant might help start the conversation. 

2) Be observant

It’s no secret that people like to talk about themselves. This is something you could actually use to your advantage when starting small talk.

Asking people about themselves lets them know you’re interested in getting to know them better, and that you want to have a conversation with them. 

To ask the proper questions, be observant. Look at them and observe their behavior. 

Then, take note of how they present themselves: do they have an interesting phone case? Do you think they dress well? Do they have really cool tattoos? 

After that, use your observations in order to start the conversation and ask the right questions. 

3) Ask the right questions

Mastering the art of small talk means knowing that the best way to keep a conversation going is to ask questions. 

As you already know, people like to talk about themselves. So ask away! 

However, don’t just ask them, “how’s it going?” because you will most likely get an answer along the lines of, “I’m good.”

If you want to have a little depth to the conversation, ask them about their life, their work, or maybe even something personal like if they’re in a relationship, if you’re feeling a little brave. 

Make sure the questions are open-ended and not just yes or no questions. For example, don’t ask a person, “do you like to walk your dog in the morning?” as they will only give a yes or a no answer. 

Instead, ask them, “how does walking your dog in the morning make you feel?” This will give you a more insightful and elaborate answer.

Try not to delve into topics that are too serious, however. After all, small talk is small talk because the conversation is only a light conversation.

4) Keep it light and breezy

When you’re having small talk, it’s best to avoid sensitive topics such as politics and religion. 

This is because talking about sensitive topics can cause unnecessary conflict and stress between you and the other party. 

Heavy topics should be reserved for a proper place and time and this simply isn’t small talk, especially if you want to keep it light and breezy.

If you’d like to keep the talk small, some safe topics to talk about include TV shows, books, movies, music, and food. Here are some examples of safe questions to ask during small talk:

  • What TV show are you binging right now?
  • What’s your favorite movie? 
  • Who’s your favorite musician?
  • What’s your stress food?

Know that you can’t have deep conversations with every new person you meet and that’s okay. Sometimes, simply knowing what to say and how to ask the right questions is enough.

Don’t beat yourself up if it wasn’t a “productive” conversation, because it doesn’t always have to be. 

However, that doesn’t mean you should stop listening to them altogether, because that’s not how you should do small talk. 

5) Listen to what they’re saying 

Every conversation goes two ways: talking and listening. Doing too much or too little of each makes the conversation one-sided, and this includes small talk. 

So if you want to master the art of small talk, be attentive to the other person, because listening to what they’re saying lets you get to know them a little better. 

A common mistake that people usually commit is they only listen to respond instead of listening to understand. 

Don’t do this! Don’t waste the time by merely waiting for an opportunity to speak instead of listening: this is a bad idea.

Why? 

Because genuinely listening will not only make you appreciate the other person, it will also add a little depth to the conversation and will help you ask questions that could get the conversation going. 

6) Express genuine interest

The essence of small talk is to help us find people that we could potentially connect with. This is why it’s such an important people skill

To master the art of small talk, your intention shouldn’t just be to survive the awkwardness. For beginners, that’s the goal. 

But for masters, it should also be to potentially establish connections with other people. 

Why?

Because no matter what you do, the conversation would always quickly die if you’re not truly interested in who you’re talking to.

To express genuine interest during a small talk, make sure to remember the name, pronouns, and other important information about the person you’re talking to. 

This is the bare minimum, but it will go a long way in letting the other person know you’re interested in them.

So when you get the opportunity, make an effort to repeat the other person’s name back to them. For example: “that was such a nice thing to say, Dolly!”

You can also try to repeat what they said in order to let them know you remember. You can do it like this: “you said you have 3 adopted cats. What are their names?”

This will encourage them to keep the conversation going. Bonus: this will also probably make them like you, too.

7) Practice

Like any skill, you can master small talk through practice. 

To train your small talk muscles, you can try to practice with your friends. 

You can do this by trying to start a conversation with a friend, asking them how they’ve been, and what they’re currently up to. 

Try to keep the conversation going for as long as you can. Even if it doesn’t last long, at least you were able to practice!

Keep doing this until you’re confident enough to approach people you don’t know at parties.

Some guides might tell you to immediately approach strangers to practice, but you don’t have to do this if you have anxiety. 

By practicing starting conversations with people you already know, it is not just safe, but also less anxiety-inducing.

8) Use body language

When you’re having small talk, use body language appropriately. 

This means maintaining eye contact, lightly touching their hands or arms (if the other person is comfortable), nodding or smiling as they speak, or laughing at their jokes.

Of course, this can only be used in a physical setting and not in online conversations. 

Try not to furrow your brows, cross your arms, or put your hands on your hips because this can make them feel unwelcome and make you look disagreeable.

Some social cues you can observe in an online conversation may include using emojis, observing how long they take to respond, the use of punctuations, and more.

Online or physical, however, don’t be scared of pauses or silence in the conversation.

9) Make the silences comfortable

None of us are fans of awkward silences. Most of us would probably rather waffle on about things that don’t make sense than sit through an awkward silence.

But pausing doesn’t have to be awkward. In fact, it’s probably time for us to rewire our brains to stop thinking that silence during a conversation is inherently awkward. 

The art of small talk isn’t only about talking, it’s also about having comfortable silences. 

We don’t have to avoid silence in a conversation like it’s the plague, because they don’t have to feel awkward. 

So don’t get anxious trying hard to think of what to say next. Use the silence as an opportunity to breathe and calm down. Rather than thinking it’s a bad thing, think of it as a natural pause to the conversation. 

However, if you feel that the conversation has died a natural death, it’s probably best to end it gracefully.

10) Thank them to wrap up the conversation

Starting small talk can be just as tricky as ending it. 

Don’t be one of those people who say “good talk” and then pat you in the back to end a conversation. This can make the person feel awkward and confused, because it gives mixed signals. It can also make you look a little condescending.

If you feel that the conversation has died a natural death, as in both of you have nothing to say anymore, a good idea to end it would be to express gratitude.

This means thanking them for their time or for what you learned during the conversation. You can also tell them you enjoyed talking to them. 

If you’re trying to network, you can tell them you’d like to continue the conversation some other time, and then get their contact details if they’re comfortable.

These are very graceful and polite ways of ending the conversation. 

Remember: don’t overthink it! Just be yourself, follow the advice in this list, and I’m sure you will master the art of small talk in no time. You got this!

Joyce Ann Isidro

Joyce is a writer who believes in the power of storytelling and changing lives by writing stories about love, relationships, and spirituality. A bookworm and art enthusiast, she considers herself a creative-at-heart who likes to satisfy her childish wonder through new hobbies and experiences.

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