The art of small talk: 10 tips for making conversation with anyone

You might dread small talk or find it tedious. And I won’t lie, you definitely aren’t alone. 

But there’s no denying that having to engage in small talk is a part of everyday life. 

Let’s face it, whether you’re at a party or on a date, or even at a work event, having the ability to engage in small talk with unfamiliar people is a major asset in making new and lasting connections. 

And having that extra bit of charisma will take you to the next level! 

For those of you that tend to struggle, you’re in luck! In this list, we outline 10 easy tips for making conversation with everyone. Let’s roll! 

1) Be genuinely interested

I’ll let you in on a little secret: when you show interest in another person, they tend to find you more intriguing and gravitate towards you. In short, you can be interesting by being interested! 

It’s a bit of a turn-off when you’re conversing with someone and they don’t really have much interest in what you have to say. They hog the convo to talk about themselves and their experiences and little else. Don’t be like this! 

Show the other party that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say by actively listening, asking thoughtful questions, and absorbing their answers.

Not only are you making good conversation, you are probably learning a few new things too!

2) Start with a neutral topic

When you’re first getting to know a person, it’s best to start things slow. That means not getting into intense and controversial topics from the get-go. 

Let’s face it, nobody really wants to hear about your views on abortion or vaccines within seconds of meeting them. 

Instead, try to steer the conversation towards safer topics like TV shows or movies, sports, or if all else fails… the weather. Don’t be discouraged by an awkward silence here and there because it is perfectly normal! Try not to overthink. 

By being neutral in the beginning, you will establish yourself as a non-threatening entity that is pleasant to converse with. 

And I guarantee it, there’s nothing to ease tension like humor…

3) Be humorous and playful

Here’s the thing: when you make someone laugh…like genuinely laugh…you’re instantly building rapport, causing the other person to let their guard down. 

That’s the special thing about humor–it magically makes people feel at ease! Cultural differences and backgrounds become irrelevant when riotous laughter is involved. Crack appropriate jokes or clever comments to keep the conversation light, memorable, and filled with chuckles. 

Just make sure to know your limits when it comes to jokes, there’s a fine line between funny and offensive–particularly when you’re with unfamiliar company. 

Don’t turn into a standup comedian in a Netflix special either. You don’t want to dominate the conversation. And well, speaking of which…

4) Don’t dominate the conversation

Conversation is really an art form. And to be a master conversationalist you have to know the first rule: good communication is all about give and take. And the same very much goes for small talk. Remember, it’s always a two-way street. 

Allow the other person to voice their thoughts and make contributions to the conversation without interrupting them.

Even when engaging in small talk, have some grace by allowing the person to speak. I can assure you this will go a long way once it becomes a habit.

And remember, communication isn’t always verbal. Be aware of non-verbal cues too… 

5) Pay attention to body language

It’s widely agreed that the vast majority of our communication with others isn’t verbal. Don’t overlook the other person’s body language and the messages they may be communicating. 

Then adjust your own body language accordingly 

As much as possible, make eye contact. Avoid closed gestures like crossing your arms for prolonged periods of time or constantly looking away or at your phone. 

Show that you are engaged and interested in the conversation through your actions!

Does this sound like a lot to take in? Don’t worry, it’ll be natural for you soon enough. 

Besides, small talk by nature should be brief anyway…

6) Keep things brief

Small talk shouldn’t drag on unnecessarily. It should be friendly but compact. Nobody likes to milk a conversation to the point of awkwardness or boredom. 

When it comes to conversation, know when it’s time to end it–don’t overstay your welcome or bore your conversational partner with dragged-out stories or self-centered monologues. 

Keep the conversation brief and light, and then when the time comes (such as a natural conversational lull), transition to the next topic or person. It’s easy. Eventually, you’ll get the hang of it! 

7) Seek common ground

Looking for an instant rapport builder? It’s simple: find something you and the other person have in common.

 Let’s say you’re on a date and you’ve run out of topics to talk about. Practice finding shared interests or experiences. This can be something as mainstream as a super popular TV series or even a mutual friend you guys might have. 

By finding shared interests or connections, you will sort of re-energize the conversation, leading to new topics and a closer and more familiar bond. 

But remember: none of this will be very effective unless you show real interest. You can do that by asking for opinions… 

8) Ask for opinions

Let’s be honest, when someone wants to know our opinions it makes us feel good. Why exactly? Because it shows your thoughts (and therefore you as a person) are valued.

In addition, by regularly exchanging non-controversial opinions you’re encouraging a more spirited and energetic dialogue.

Like many people around the world, I just watched the finale of the first season of The Last Of Us the other day. And without giving too much away, Joel, the show’s protagonist, was faced with a moral conundrum at the end. 

Today, I had lunch with an old friend. The conversation faded a bit after a while. So we began to discuss that episode of The Last Of Us. When the topic was brought up, his eyes lit up instantly. 

I asked him about his interpretations of the ending, then gave mine–and almost immediately the conversation transformed from dull to animated. The exchange of opinions and thoughts made the conversation lively and fun! 

And here’s another thing, when dealing with a new person, you want to put your best foot forward. So maintain positivity! 

And speaking of positivity… 

9) Be positive

You don’t want to be known as that guy or girl… the one that always has something negative or pessimistic to say. You don’t want to be Negative Nancy or Donnie Downer. 

Remember, there’s always a time and place for cynicism, and small talk with someone you don’t really know usually isn’t that time. 

To make a lasting impression, keep the conversation constructive and actively avoid controversial or cynical topics, as we’ve established above. Nobody wants to have their mood affected by a miserable conversation, so keep things amusing, brief, and upbeat.

I have an aunt that lives in London but regularly flies over to visit the family. Although I think she’s a pretty good person deep down, she can’t help but be pessimistic and preachy to most people she comes across be it her own family or the waiter at a restaurant, or an acquaintance from her youth.

Naturally, people tend to avoid her. This is the type of behavior you’re better off without. So stay upbeat as much as possible!

10) Practice makes perfect!

If you can’t seem to get the hang of things immediately, don’t be too hard on yourself. Never forget: quality results happen over time, not overnight. 

Small talk is truly an art, one that I have no doubt you’ll master over time. Amazingly, some people are just natural talkers and have no issues with making small talk. 

For the rest of us, being a good conversationalist is a skill that takes effort and repetition.  

So get out there and practice! Start simple. You can rehearse with close friends, family, or colleagues to immerse yourself in real-life situations and build your conversational confidence. 

You never know when you’ll need to strike up a conversation with someone new. In fact, the more “adult” we become, the more we’ll have deal with small talk so it pays to be prepared.

To recap, becoming an expert in the art of small talk is an integral part of building connections. By diligently following these pointers and actively building your conversational abilities, you’ll be a small talk master before you know it. So take the leap and strike up that conversation, I’m confident the results will speak for themselves! 

Daniel Mabanta

Daniel Mabanta is a freelance writer and editor, entrepreneur and an avid traveler, adventurer and eater. He lives a nomadic life, constantly on the move. He is currently in Manila, Philippines and deciding where his next destination will be.

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