How to Make Successful Small Talk: Tips and Topics | VP Legacies

How to Make Successful Small Talk: Tips and Topics for Small Talk

How to Make Successful Small Talk: Tips and Topics for Small Talk

How to Make Successful Small Talk: Tips and Topics for Small Talk 1030 680 VP Legacies

 

In the era of social media, making a Personal Connection® can get pushed to the back burner. This has the potential to impact both personal and professional relationships. If you are someone who already struggles with opening the lines of communication, today’s tools for communicating can push you further into a shell.

Intentionality is the rule of the day. When you’re going into social settings, have pre-planned topics for small talk to break the ice.  It may seem like a daunting task, but try to look at it as a positive. Every successful deal starts with a conversation.

Starting in week 5 of our 8 week boot camp, VP Legacies teaches how you can use small talk to build a strong, deep meaningful relationship with yourself and others. Specifically, we discuss the 5 stages of our “Iceberg of Personal Connection” framework. Throughout this article we ding into stage 1 (Small Talk) in detail.

To learn more, talk with one of our co-founders to learn about “The Iceberg of Personal Connection.”

1. Work-Related Small Talk

Forming work relationships comes easily to some people. Others simply want to do their job and go home. Regardless of which category you fall under, there will always be a need for internal workplace communication.

Be respectful of your coworkers’ time. If you know it’s the end of the month and reports are due, keep small talk to a minimum. Learn their cues for when it is not a good time to interrupt them.

To bridge the gap, always say good morning and goodbye, regardless of the response. Pay attention to what interests them and when the time is right, use that as a conversation starter.

Never take a colleague’s unwillingness to engage in small talk as a personal slight against you.

Here are some examples of good questions to ask and how to respond to work-related small talk topics:

Questions

  • How’s your day been going?
  • Have you been busy today?
  • How’s your morning/afternoon been? (Most of the time you can get more interesting responses when asking about a more specific time of day.)

Responses

  • I’ve been focusing on x, and it’s going really well!
  • Work has been slow for me today so I’ve been working on my to-do list.
  • My morning/afternoon has been pretty busy, but that’s how I like it!

Related: Why Empathy in the Workplace Matters

2. Professional Settings

people laughing

For those who work in large corporations, there is a possibility the professional setting will extend beyond your office or cubicle. In these moments, you’ll want to have good small talk questions ready to go.

There is a saying that there are no dumb questions. However, there are questions that could make you appear less intelligent. Avoid asking questions that should be common knowledge to everyone in the room.

Instead, think about upcoming changes in the industry or a new product rollout you’d like to learn more about.

A good way to get started is to bring up events or any new things that are happening in the workplace. Maybe your company is organizing a charitable event, or there is something going on in the community that you and your coworkers could get in on together. Offer suggestions for team-building exercises or try your hand at organizing a small employee-centered activity, like a potluck or gift exchange.

3. Networking Events

Networking events are two-fold. You are either there to represent your company or industry or you are looking for new professional opportunities.

The best practice for these events is to stay on topic, especially if small talk is not your gift. During the course of the conversation, listen for something you may have in common to steer the dialogue.

If you can’t find anything else, professionals often love repping their alma maters, so ask which college they attended. If they didn’t go to college, it’s okay. Show genuine interest in their journey to success.

Networking is all about making connections, so try to ask relevant questions, like:

  • Has automation changed how you perform your job?
  • What experience has served you the best in your role?
  • What do you like about working in your field?
  • How do you feel about online learning and micro-learning?
  • What challenges is the industry facing?

Current events make for good small talk also, just be sure to avoid controversial topics like:

  • Politics
  • Religion
  • Financial situations

4. Personal Relationships

When it comes to personal relationships, someone who is an introvert might struggle with small talk unless it’s with someone they trust. Outside of close bonds, things can get awkward.

If someone senses that you are shy or reserved, they might try to force you to open up or they’ll let you stay to yourself. Resist the urge to become comfortable with the second option. Remember that lots of people are introverts, and you don’t have to feign confidence or talkativeness in order to create successful small talk. Start off a small conversation without feeling the need to ‘oversell’ yourself.

Consider the setting. What do you know about the people or the occasion for getting together? It’s always good to know something you can use to be the first to spark the conversation.

The easiest way to get the ball rolling is to ask questions about the other person. People love to talk about themselves, and it takes the pressure off of you. Otherwise, stick to general questions that anyone can answer, like:

  • What are your plans for the weekend?
  • Have you seen any good movies lately?
  • What do you do for work?
  • Where do you go to school? / What are you studying? (If you know they are a student.)

5. Family Outings 

Being around family should be a safe space to express yourself. When it comes to family outings, though, things change because you’re engaging with a bigger audience.

For instance, creating small talk at your niece’s sporting events is easy. You have the kids and the sport in common. However, avoid small talk that can lead to one-upmanship. Complement what the other child does well and do not mention their shortcomings.

Another opportunity for small talk is when you’re at a restaurant and have a long wait for a table. This is a great time to make new friends. The best conversation starter is “Why don’t all restaurants offer reservations?”

You can ask more specific/personal questions when it comes to your family. Ask them about things you know they are interested in. If you know one of your family members is a sports fanatic, ask them things like:

  • What’s your favorite team?
  • Have you ever gone to a game?
  • Did you ever play?

Do you best to avoid controversial topics, like:

  • Politics
  • Religion
  • Financial situations

6. Entertainment Settings 

This should be the easiest place to engage in small talk. Everyone at a concert, sporting event, or holiday parties wants to be there, right?

Wrong! Sometimes people with social anxiety are pulled into settings and get left out of the conversation.

You can build the bridge that brings them over to the fun side of the island. Try asking an engaging question like “If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be?

Try to ask questions related to the event you are attending. Depending on what you are doing, try some questions like:

  • Have you read any good books lately? Which ones?
  • What is your favorite genre of movies? Which movie/show can you not live without?
  • Do you know of any good podcasts about x
  • Who is your favorite band/artist? What’s your favorite album/song?
  • Have you found any interesting apps for your phone that you can’t go without?

7. Random Small Talk

random small talk

Random conversations can pop-up at any time or place. The best ones often happen when you’re standing in long lines during holiday shopping.

No matter where you’re waiting for service or why you’re there, you automatically have something in common with the people around you. You’re there for a reason, it was important enough to be there, and you’re not leaving until you get what you came for.

The commonality is the greatest entry into random small talk. And you never know. Maybe a brief run-in might turn into a chance to develop a deeper Personal Connection®.

When engaging in small talk with strangers in a local place, like a grocery store, keep it light. Ask general questions that won’t have a chance to cause conflict, like:

The Area

  • Do you live around here?
  • How long have you been in the area?
  • Do you like it?
  • Where are you originally from?

The Weather

While talking about the weather may seem like a bit of a cliche, there are ways to spice it up a little bit. If the weather is nice, ask about outdoor activities that they enjoy and if they have any plans for doing them soon. Ask about their favorite season and why they like it better than the other ones.

Hobbies

If things are going well and the talk is going to continue for a while, you can delve into their hobbies and passions. People are extremely enthusiastic when they get to talk about something they really care about. Ask them things like:

  • What do you do in your free time?
  • What activities do you do outside of work?
  • Are you taking/planning on taking any courses?
  • What new things would you like to try?

8. Types of Small Talk to Avoid

Yes, there are small talk situations to avoid in most settings. These center on the topics of politics, extremely personal details, and anything else that you might instinctively call ‘controversial’. If you have not developed a personal relationship with someone, leave these topics off the table.

It is also important not to engage in sexually suggestive conversations with people you do not know or work with.

The big five topics to avoid are:

  • Politics
  • Age
  • Religion
  • Physical appearance
  • Anything rated PG-13 and above

9. How Long Should Small Talk Conversations Be?

Small talk conversations are brief exchanges. They are not meant to capitalize on someone’s time. It is more about filling a space between two people, unless you are using small talk as a tool to dig deeper into the stages of “The Iceberg of Personal Connection. Although there is no set time on how long a conversation should last, you do need to know the cues for when someone is no longer interested. Don’t make comments like “I know you’re tired of listening to me.” This can make you seem needy. If you begin to sense the other person seems distracted, bored, or busy, you can say something like, “Do you have a few more minutes to chat?” Or, if it’s a work-related conversation, “Do you have a few more minutes to go over this task?” This is effective because it helps you figure out how much longer you should talk without demeaning yourself.

Otherwise, if it seems like the conversation has run its course, say something like “Oh, I see Mary, let me go say hi!” Or, “I’m going to get a drink, would you like something?” If they say no, move on.

If you are hoping to use small talk as a way to personally connect deeply with someone, you still want to make sure that you don’t linger in small talk too long. Instead, we teach with our “Iceberg of Personal Connection” framework to ask “why is it important to you that the weather is warm today?” Or, really use the word “why” by itself. Your ultimate goal is to move the conversation to stage 3 (“Stories and Details”) and 4 (“Embrace Emotion”) as quickly as possible so you can personally connect.

To learn more, talk with one of our co-founders to learn about our boot camp and “The Iceberg of Personal Connection” framework.

10. Breaking the Ice

Many industries have taken the art of the ice-breaker to new levels with their nametags. Instead of simply placing the name on the nametag, they encourage attendees to write something about themselves. Others go so far as to create name badge decoration stations.

If you’re not lucky enough to attend such an affair, start with “Hi, my name is…” A small talk question for breaking the ice is following the introduction up by asking what the other person’s name is, what brought them to the event, etc.

Here are some great ways to start off a conversation:

  • How are things going with your work?
  • I’d love to hear your thoughts on x
  • How has business changed?
  • Are you planning on attending any events soon?
  • What are you happy/worried about today?
  • Tell me more about your work with x

Asking silly questions is also a good way to lighten the mood and get the conversation flowing:

  • Which TV show/movie would you want to live in?
  • What would be your eighth wonder of the world?
  • What superpower would you choose?
  • What’s the strangest thing anyone has ever said to you?
  • What type of animal would you want to be?

11. Knowing When to Disengage

Sometimes small talk leads to long talks, and before you know it, the event is over. In one sense this is a good thing, but in business, not so much. It is not uncommon for people who struggle to communicate in social settings to latch on to someone who provides a safety net.

Try to avoid these situations. One, you’re denying yourself the opportunity to meet others. Two, you’re denying the other person the opportunity to mingle and talk with others.

In spaces with lots of people, set a time limit of a few minutes. When you reach that point, graciously exit the conversation with “It was lovely meeting you, but I don’t want to take up all of your time!”

Here are some examples of how to end a conversation:

  • Let’s catch up later, I’d love to hear how x works out for you!
  • I’m going to get something to eat/drink, it was great to meet you!
  • I need to use the restroom, enjoy the rest of the meeting/event/party.
  • I’m glad we got the chance to talk, but I need to go catch up with x person.
  • Is there anything I can do for you before I have to go?
  • This has been great, do you have a business card I can take with me?

12. When to Exchange Contact Information

It’s a good thing when a connection is made through small talk, as this could be the opening to bigger conversations. Sometimes the setting is right for continued dialogue. This is when you need the confidence to ask the person if you can talk again.

Business cards are still a thing. In today’s society, people are more likely to pull out their phones and exchange numbers. Only ask for contact information if you plan to reach out later.

Avoid exchanging social media handles in professional interactions unless you’re pointing someone to your business page.

13. Follow-Up Conversations

Follow-up conversations happen for different reasons. They all result from taking the initiative to engage with someone else. Whether it was at a professional event or social outing, remember there was a commitment to do something.

Follow through on the promises to provide additional information and create a deeper Personal Connection®. Even if you can’t find what you promised, call to let the other person know.

The fact that there was an exchange of information means your small talk skills were on point. Congratulate yourself on being an effective communicator.

Related: How to talk to People in the Physical and Digital World 

Different Topics for Small Talk and Tips for Delivery

There’s a time and a place for everything. The conversations you have at intimate gatherings with friends will be totally different than speaking to business executives at a conference.

Being able to transition from workplace conversation to happy hour banter is also beneficial when you want to fit in. Oftentimes, colleagues do not build personal relationships because they can’t shift gears outside of work. When this happens, it’s easy to become the odd man out.

Get familiar with the above list items, because understanding when and where to utilize them will make a huge difference in how you connect with others. Practice your delivery in different settings with people you trust, and over time you’ll be able to use what you’ve learned to chat comfortably with strangers. No matter the setting, though, the key to a conversation that flows is listening well and being genuinely interested in what the other person has to say.

Getting Better at Small Talk

Small talk is a skill like any other; it just takes time and practice to improve.

Act Like You’re Speaking With a Friend

Rather than looking at someone as a stranger, try to pretend that they are a good friend who you have known for years. This is a good trick to alleviate some anxiety, and also helps you come off as extremely friendly.

Try to Relax

You know the feeling when you get home and start thinking about all of the awkward things that you said to someone. Chances are, that person isn’t going to remember what you said that you think came out wrong. You’re much more critical of yourself than others are towards you. Don’t dwell on long silences or awkward moments; they really aren’t a big deal.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The more small talk you engage in, the more comfortable you will be. You’ll learn which topics work the best for you, how to gauge someone’s mood, and how to read body language. Talking with strangers can feel intimidating, but it’s great practice. Plus, if you feel like you messed up, odds are that you will never even see that person again.

Set Goals

Setting simple goals for small talk can help you maintain focus and makes it feel more meaningful. Your goals can be anything from talking to one person at the grocery store, engaging with a new coworker, or networking with someone at an event that you’ve never met before.

Signup for “Personal Connection Boot Camp” (“#PCBC”)

Our 8-week intensive “Personal Connection Boot Camp” dives deep into small talk and helps you build a deep Personal Connection® with yourself and others. Lastly, in #PCBC you will learn how to use “Small Talk” and “The Iceberg of Personal Connection” to find and create fullfillment in your relationships, career and finances.