People often focus on more formal business skills, such as networking and building their elevator pitch; small talk just doesn’t seem to be a priority for most people. It may seem strange to focus on the art of small talk, but being good at small talk can be vital to your professional success. Regardless of your role in a company, you will most definitely – at some point – find yourself in a professional setting where you are forced to make conversation with someone you don’t know; it could be a senior manager, client, or even a co-worker. But how do you hold a conversation with someone you barely know, or someone you seemingly have nothing in common with? It’s always good to have a couple of go-to topics in your back pocket – that way, you’re never sitting there twiddling your thumbs, having to think of a topic of forced conversation. Here are some tips on making small talk like a pro:
Ask open-ended questions
The key is to ask questions that are easy enough to answer so that the person won’t have to work too hard to engage in conversation, and also something that can’t be answered with a simple “yes” or “no” – which stops the conversation pretty quickly. Plus, if you’re the one asking questions, you’re letting the other person direct the conversation. This allows the dialogue to develop naturally, and puts less pressure on you having to find a new topic to keep the conversation going.
Share something about yourself
One of the easiest conversation starters is making a small comment that reveals something small about yourself. It doesn’t have to be anything profound – often a comment on what brought you to the situation will suffice. Revealing something small about yourself gives others context for who you are and why you’re here.
Talk about current events
No – not the weather. If you feel your small talk is losing momentum, feel free to move the conversation away from personal topics and talk about what’s going on in the world (try and stay away from politics or religion, as that can get kind of dicey). Try and stick to well-known topics: sports, recent local events, films, etc. This way, the other person is more likely to have something to contribute on the subject.