Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt nauseous before going to a party or to meet a few new friends because of the inevitability of small talk? ME!!!!
We’ve all had moments where we just don’t want to talk to anyone. Especially about the weather or where we went to college. Boring! Most times we just want to stick to your group and gossip about the people we work with.
Some people go as far as saying, “small talk is my kryptonite.” Whoa! That’s serious.
We get it. Small talk can be incredibly boring. It’s sometimes excruciatingly painful for people. But believe it or not, learning how to small talk can change your life. People feel as though small talk is just an annoying hurdle to get over so they can get to the “good part” of the conversation.
But, small talk can be, and is, the really good stuff you’re looking for. It will lead you to the deeper conversations you want. As a result, there are certain things that hold people back from having a good conversation. What we think truly holds people back from improving and learning how to small talk are:
- Fear of rejection of attempting to start a conversation.
- Not having anything in common with a stranger.
- You assume people aren’t interested in what you have to say.
Fears, social anxieties, and assumptions all become barriers. You might be asking yourself some questions:
“How do I even make someone talk?”
“How to talk about myself on a date?”
“How do I talk to someone without being annoying?”
These are real questions to think about and can be confusing to find the answers to. But don’t let fear or anxiety hold you back because if you do, you’re choosing to be alone instead. And we don’t want that! Without a doubt, the people who hate small talk, are most likely, just not good at it or don’t want to learn. DON’T BE THIS PERSON!
We think once you learn about the WHY small talk is important, you’ll start to appreciate the structure of how to small talk and the significance of it. So, let’s talk about 5 reasons small talk is important.
5 Reasons Why The Ability To Make Small Talk Is Important
First, let’s start out by saying the benefits of small talk outweigh the nervous feeling you get before a social event. Undoubtedly, genuine social interactions, even small ones, contribute to fulfilling the basic human need to belong.
Gillian Sandstrom, a psychology lecturer at the University of Essex, says, “By chatting with a stranger, you are being seen and acknowledged, and your connection to that one person may remind you of your universal connection to other people.”
In essence, small talk is a way to bond with people. If you can’t small talk, developing relationships will be more challenging. Now, here are the 5 reasons you should start learning how to small talk today.
Reason #1. It leads to true friends.
Most importantly, we humans are social beings and we crave connections with other people. In fact, small talk is also how we get to know others and discover if they’ll fit into our lives.
Eventually, the better you become at small talk, the more potential for deeper conversations, which leads to bonding, true friends, and stronger relationships.
Reason #2. You need small talk to be likable.
Being likable leads to a lot of things. Such as:
- A romantic partner
- More friends
- A promotion
- Getting hired for a new job
- Believe it or not, being likable can make you more money.
In short, learning how to small talk is a gateway to all of the things listed above. Think of it as just one part of a conversation that leads you to your end goal. The goal is different for everyone but for many, it’s making friends.
Reason #3. Small talk helps you gather information about people.
First, if you’re able to find something in common with another person, you’re conversation will be much easier. To demonstrate, below is a quick conversation that shows how to arrive at the “me too” moment during small talk.
Them: “Cool, you live in Brooklyn NY too?”
You: “Yea, near Atlantic Ave.”
Them: “Oh nice! Me too!”
You: “I love the Daily Press Bar, near my apartment.”
Them: “I was there last night!”
You: “They have great trivia on Thursday. We should go.”
Them: “Yes! Let’s do it!”
In the end, discovering compatibility or arriving at the “me too” moment is a huge accomplishment in conversations. It almost always solidifies a connection and can be used for a more in-depth conversation.
To sum it up, if you want to have deeper conversations find things in common and talk about it. The only way to accomplish this is if you start learning how to small talk.
Reason #4. Quality small talk will make you feel happier.
For example, if you’re grabbing a coffee before work and you spark up a nice chat while you wait, you’ll leave with a smile. Or, at the very least you’ll feel happier than when you walked in.
A study by, Gillian Sandstrom and Elizabeth Dunn concluded in their study called, “Is Efficiency Overrated?” says, “People who smiled at, made eye contact with, and briefly spoke with their coffee baristas reported a greater sense of belonging than those who rushed to buy the coffee.”
For this reason, try to make small talk with strangers or with the person who pours your coffee or tea!
Reason #5. You will always need small talk skills.
Above all, there will always be a necessity to talk to people. So why not practice? If you want to improve, start making the effort. Learning how to small talk is easier than you think. Try stuff out, see what works.
In fact, getting a job, working with colleagues, winning new clients, entertaining current clients, and managing people, all require you to small talk. In the end, anything social requires you to use small talk.
Finally, you now know the reasons why learning how to small talk is important. Now, we’ll go deep into The 10 Awkward Free Strategies to improve your small talk skills that you can use in any situation.
How To Small Talk: The 10 Awkward Free Strategies
Strategy #1. Find a place where you feel comfortable.
For instance, have you ever gone to a networking event or a happy hour and you just hate being there? We all have and we also know it can be very draining!
In our opinion, a lot of networking events are a waste of time. 95% of people at these events are only there to get something from you, instead of trying to develop meaningful relationships with you.
In the book, Likeonomics, the Author Rohit Bhargava says, “Networking Need to Die”. We agree!
Bhargava goes on to say:
“We can all recall a moment when we meet someone who clearly was trying to get to know us only as a strategy for being able to sell us something or ask us for a favor later. No one likes those people.”
“So what do I do?” “How can I talk to people?”
You find a place or a group of people you want to actually talk to. Find people you have things in common with at places you’ll feel comfortable at.
Suggestions: Comic-Con, chess club, video game group, wine tasting, or cooking class.
Ask yourself, “Where will people you will be like be?”
The goal of going somewhere where you feel comfortable. It’s to help you reduce any anxiety, and most importantly meet people you have things in common with. The more compatible you are with someone the easier small talk is. Once you discover a common interest with someone, focus your energy on the topic you both relate to. It’s one of the ways you can begin moving small talk towards deeper conversations.
As a final point, finding or meeting people who have similar interests can be hard. Here are a few legitimate resources we think you might benefit from:
These are three great sources to use in the United States that can help you make more meaningful relationships and practice small talk. If you have any other resources let us know!
In the end, simply go where you feel comfortable and where you’ll find your pack. Go where you feel you’ll thrive and feel good about yourself. Finding a group of people with similar interests is one of the keys to socializing more comfortably and learning how to small talk. Remember, don’t drain yourself of energy by forcing yourself to go places you hate.
Strategy #2. Wear a Conversation Starter.
Even more, if you’re feeling confident, and don’t mind people coming up to you, you should consider wearing a conversation starter because it can be anything that will get someone’s attention or spark small talk. Such as:
- Carry popular book
- Sports hat or a sombrero
- A shirt that says something provocative
- New shoes or a new tie. You’ll be surprised how many people give you a compliment.
If you don’t mind bringing a little attention to yourself wear something that stands out so people might ask you about it. This will give you plenty of opportunities to learn how to small talk with people. If you go somewhere to meet friends or new people, there is a good chance they’ll ask about the conversation starter you’re wearing.
Strategy #3. Become a better questioner.
The trick is … you actually don’t need to talk as much as you think you do. You just have to ask the right questions. One of the first steps in becoming better at small talk is to become a better questioner. The next time you’re talking to someone be aware of the questions you’re asking.
The quality of a question relies on 4 factors.
- The types of questions you’re asking
- The order of questions
- Your tone
- How you present the questions
Dale Carnegie, the author of the very epic book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, said,
“Ask questions the other person will enjoy answering.”
Asking the right questions is a powerful way to discover meaningful information about the person you’re talking to. First, start with basic questions that are “safe” topics or “feelers” which will give you an idea about who the person is or what they’re feeling in the moment.
Here are some feeler questions:
“It’s great to meet you! How are you?”
“It’s great to meet you! How’s the day been?”
“What’s your day been like?”
“Have you been here before? (If yes) What do you recommend eating?”
Next, start picking up the speed and begin to use discovery questions and listen for meaningful things the person mentions. Some questions you can use are:
What are your weekend plans?
What are some personal projects you’re working on?
What do you recommend for fun activities this weekend?
Working on anything exciting lately outside of work?
At this point, you’ve discovered some facts about the person. You have clues and ideas to work with, so now you have more information to ask deeper questions. Lastly, one piece of advice some people might disagree with is to ask basic yes-no questions. They’re actually OK. But only in moments where you’re trying to get a feel for the situation.
Asking, “Do you live in the area?” can give you an idea of how responsive they’ll be or what their personality is like. Think of these types of questions as getting a taste for who you’re about to talk to. It’s kind of like dipping your toe in the water or tasting food before serving it to people. If you don’t like what you taste then change things up or add some spice. Or, just throw it out.
Strategy #4. Curiosity Reduces Awkwardness
Have you ever had someone ask you questions about your life? I bet you enjoyed that conversation more than others. It’s because 99% of us love talking about ourselves. It’s not only because we’re self-absorbed but because it feels really good.
Harvard’s psychology department did some research and found that humans get a biochemical buzz from self-disclosure.
In fact, the research also says we spend almost 40% of conversations talking about ourselves. What makes us do this? Simply, our brain chemistry.
So, if you want to keep a conversation flowing or have great small talk, the easiest thing to do is be curious. Being curious is a skill anyone can develop and is important to use in everyday communication.
Most importantly, being curious is really all about being open to exploring who the person is that you’re talking to. Keep in mind: Who are they, what do they do, why are they there, etc.
The questions below are examples you can use for small talk and ultimately opens the door to deep conversation.
What was the highlight of your week?
What are you looking forward to this weekend?
What is it about the work you do that excites you?
Tell me about some fun things you’ve done in the last few weeks.
Ultimately, these questions will improve and build on the conversation beyond small talk. These are open-ended questions that will reduce awkward small talk. They’ll spark longer and deeper discussions and will extend the conversation significantly.
Strategy #5. Find someone’s spark.
For one thing, if you can find something someone loves to talk about endlessly, it will be like you’ve found gold. We like to call this, someone’s spark. If you master strategy #4 you’ll easily find someone’s spark.
When you ask the person you’re talking to a question and they jolt up and get excited about the question, then you’ve found their spark. And you have to find it by digging around with questions and by listening for clues people give you.
For example, if you asked a question about someone’s weekend and they say, “I went boating this weekend with friends. It was fun”
You can say: “Oh wow! What is it like driving a boat? I bet it was also a great time with friends!”
This can open up a whole different conversation. Most people don’t go boating unless it’s a hobby or they love boating.
Another example: “I went to Europe this summer! It was a great time.”
Follow up by asking about Europe and where their next trip is going to be.
You can say: “Tell me about your trip to Europe?”
If you’re not asking these types of follow up questions then you’re truly not listening or you’re not being curious enough. Eventually, you need to become more curious to be successful at small talk.
Strategy #6. Be as observant.
Have you ever entered the room and noticed a beautiful painting or a view? We all see interesting things when we’re around other people. So, start talking about it! This is an important and easy strategy to use when learning how to small talk.
What you see is a great way to take your small talk game to another level. The things you see gives you an opportunity to make small talk less awkward. Observe what’s in the room or around you before you make small talk with a stranger. It’s a great ice breaker.
You: Wow. What a view of the New York City Skyline. It’s always inspiring to me, especially at night. What do you think?
Stranger: Yea, It’s a sight to see for sure. I love the city at night.
You: I’m Andrew by the way. Nice to meet you.
Try this out. Take a look at the pictures below and think about what you observe. How would you talk about what you see to create small talk?
Sometimes the best small talk starts from just simply noticing a detail or giving a compliment.
“Oh wow! I love your shoes. Can I ask where you got them?”
“I love the paintings on the wall. Are you an art collector?”
“I love your hat. I can’t pull that off like you.”
“That’s a great picture of you and your kid playing baseball. Do you coach him too?”
It’s as simple as noticing a hat, a picture or almost anything in a room can spark small talk. Learn to become more observant about people and the room you’re in. You’ll start to become aware of the details people have that you can talk about.
Strategy #7. Reveal something about yourself and open up a little bit.
Sometimes both people who are talking to one another are nervous. Their mind might go blank or they can’t think of anything to say. So, feel free to talk about yourself or add an interesting fact related to what you’re talking about.
For example, if you’re at a bar and you’re asking people where they’re from follow up with:
“If you haven’t explored [ insert your city here] you should consider [a location people will like].
“If you haven’t explored Brooklyn NY, you would love the Brooklyn Museum.”
“The area where I live has a lot of new restaurants. It’s a great place to get local beer and food.”
You can even turn it into an invitation to a future get together.
“The area where I live has a lot of new restaurants. It’s a great place to get local beer and food. We should all go next week for happy hour!”
The point of strategy #7 is to let you know that speaking up about something you’ve experienced can ease the awkward silence. Also, it’s a great idea to talk about your experiences because you’re important too!
Lastly, don’t wait too long for people to ask you questions about yourself because you might be waiting a long time. We all have interesting experiences people would love to hear about. Use it!
Strategy #8. Go to events ready to talk about interesting things/topics.
With the power of the internet, we all can find something interesting to talk about. For starters, it’s a good idea to find a topic or subject people can relate to. Therefore, knowing your audience is important.
If you’re talking with a group of people who love sports, then you know to talk about the latest sports drama, popular players, or games. If you’re speaking to a travel enthusiast or coin collector, talk about their latest adventures or collections. If you don’t know anything about someone’s hobby or what their “spark” is, then Google the topic. They’ll be impressed when you can engage with them on a topic they’re enthusiastic about.
This is a strategy that can make a conversation much smoother and less awkward. Being prepared goes a long way. This will make learning how to small talk much easier because you’ll have ideas or subject matter to extend or start a conversation instead of with no plan.
If you need some ideas check out Googletrends.com
Strategy #9. Get them to say, “me too!” Find things in common is huge!
We briefly talked about this above, but when you meet someone and you find out they like the same TV show or movie, or the same color, or anything, what do you say? “ME TOOOOOO!” This should be music to your ears.
When two people discover they have something in common they didn’t think they would, it gives them a nice endorphin high. It’s a great brain buzz. Knowing you have something in common can be an intense experience, making the connection between two people much stronger. You can do this by going back to strategy #5, and dig for details. Remember to become a better questioner.
Here is a video scene of Anthony Bourdain in Hong Kong asking questions and realizing he has something wonderful in common with the person he’s having a conversation with.
Strategy #10. Bring a friend. Having someone to use as a buffer makes small talk easier.
For the purpose of making small talk less awkward, ask a friend to come with you to a social event. A friend can make you feel significantly more comfortable and able to engage with people or when you can’t. You can even call this person a “wingman”.
Think of a “wingman” as a teammate who is by your side and can help you with any social anxiety or fears you may have. Using a friend to learn how to small talk can be an asset. They will literally stand by you and support you during any social situation.
Most importantly, a good wingman can take the lead in a conversation. This can help you feel more confident instead of freaking out about starting a small talk conversation by yourself. Join in when you feel ready.
Key Takeaways: Small Talk Is The Essential Building Block of Connection
Dr. Justine Coupland, an expert in the field of sociolinguistics, and author of the book, Small Talk, says:
“Small talk cannot be dismissed as peripheral, marginal or minor discourse. Small talk is a means by which we negotiate interpersonal relationships. This is a crucial function with significant implications for ongoing and future interactions.”
It’s important to remember that small talk has the power to open the door for life-changing experiences. Small talk brings us into the present moment with each other. A simple, “Hello” or “How’s your day?” can truly bring people together.
And at last, the greatest take away is this: the words we say to one another can turn a lonely experience into a shared one, steering us towards genuine and real connection.