08 June 2020

Superficial chit chat? Empty pleasantries? You might not always like it, but small talk is an important gateway to building future connections, relationships, friendships and business partners. And it's as important as ever when we're physically distanced from one another. If your conversation skills are a little rusty, here's tips to get started

2:00 min

1 Plan an entrance… and an exit

The best way to initiate small talk is to equip yourself with conversation starters. The simple rule of thumb is to strike up a conversation by asking how someone is. It’s also best to have an exit strategy. A simple thank you and goodbye approach is easy, such as “it was a pleasure speaking with you. Enjoy the rest of your evening.”

2 Carry a mental list of safe topics

Neutral topics such as the weather, food, hobbies, sports, and entertainment are all excellent references for conversation. If the chat starts to wane, defaulting to any of these topics will make for an instant recovery. “Are you following any shows at the moment?” or “what do you do outside of work?” are great questions to get the ball rolling again. To be safe, avoid controversial topics such as politics, religion, personal gossip, or offensive jokes. 

3 Remember names

Talking with new people can feel like a blur. Names are quickly exchanged, and multiple conversations happen simultaneously. The best approach is to repeat the name after someone has introduced themselves. “It’s nice to meet you, Mario” or “glad you could make it, Julia” are useful techniques. If you do forget a name, don’t panic. Try listening to see if someone repeats it in the conversation. Asking a third party is also another option. Finally, a simple “I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name. Could you please repeat it?” is also perfectly acceptable.

4 Ask open-ended questions

Generally speaking, we are most comfortable when we talk about ourselves. Asking open-ended questions maintains the conversation flow and allows others to open up to you. Questions like “what’s your favorite part of the job?” or “what are some of the big challenges you’re facing right now?” are useful to encourage others to engage and share.

5 Avoid one-word answers

One-word answers are the biggest conversation killers. A curt “fine” or “maybe” answer to an open-ended question implies that you no longer want to continue the conversation, or you are not interested in that person. Even if you have good intentions, a one-word answer always has a slightly unfriendly undertone.


6 Always introduce others

As a rule of thumb, if a new person enters the conversation circle, turn to him/her and welcome them into the discussion. This etiquette shows that you care enough to take the time to welcome others. It will also skip the awkward phase of others hovering around.

7 Relax

Small talk can be stressful, even for those who enjoy talking. The best way to stay out of the spotlight is to ask questions. Give yourself some space and build a comfort level with others to test the waters and eventually, ease into the conversation.