4 definitive techniques to making small talk

4 Definitive Techniques to Making Small Talk

Are you hating on small talk? Or, gasp! avoiding it?

You know those engaging folks who can meet someone for the first time and end up getting digits or business cards? They can make merry conversation with just about anyone while waiting for the meeting to start?

They always seem to articulate their thoughts in the most profound and concise manner. And they seem to have the most extraordinary executive presence.

Are they small talk savants? What’s the deal here?

You can be a small talk savant.

Those folks who know how to make incredible conversation at any given moment have merely learned the techniques to do so. Oh, and they’ve practiced them.

And you can too.

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Laugh-out loud conversations are good.

Ever since my late teens, I’ve enjoyed having complex, laugh-out-loud conversations with people, whether we’re in line at the deli, sitting together at the bar, or just standing at a “don’t walk” sign. Cab drivers, ticket vendors, airline agents were also not out of my cross-hairs. I love making small talk.

Of course that wasn’t always the case. As a younger person I was really quite shy.

how to make small talk

Small talk is essential for networking.

Most of the time, I come away from these conversations with a smile on my face.  My day has been made! I’m pretty sure I brightened up the days of those with whom I’ve chatted. I know because their faces are always beaming.

I must’ve gotten it from my dad. My dad always chats with everyone. He makes conversation with every person who crosses his path. He also sang loudly at church. That bit embarrassed me. But the chatting with strangers bug I caught. (I do sing loudly in the shower, though. And in the car.)

Disclaimer:  Do not talk to strangers if you’re under 16!

Here, we’re just talking about happiness and enjoying ourselves chatting away with others. But remember small talk is absolutely necessary for networking. your ability to make small talk can make or break you when meeting new people and at job interviews.

Small Talk has a Bad Name

There’s tons of stuff out there about how horrifying small talk is.

Did you ever see the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode on the Stop & Chat? Larry David hated stopping & talking to people about nothing. (I thought that was hilarious!)

All over the internet and irl small talk is demonized. Everyone goes on about how much they hate it.

Here’s an example of an article where the author perpetuates small talk’s bad name. It’s about small talk & why introverts hate it.  In this article, the author states:

The truth is that small talk allows two people to have an entire conversation without really getting to know each other.”

Pervasive Misconception of Making Small Talk

Ok, wrong!

That’s the pervasive misconception of small talk–that you’re supposed to say superficial things & never learn anything about each other. This couldn’t be further from the truth! 

The truth lies here:  3 Steps to Amazing Small Talk & here:  Making Small Talk with Ease.

These two articles discuss how to establish strong relationships before you get the stats. The crux is that you should talk about how you feel about a situation or a thing–stuff that people can relate to looooong before you get onto, “What do you do?” “Where are you from?”

Those topics lead to a dull brick wall, and you’ll avoid eye contact with that person the next time you see them. Awkward.

So let’s shift our mindset about making small talk and use it to help us succeed in life.

Do you avoid small talk?

Do you hate it? Most of my clients tell me they hate small talk, and when I ask why they say, “I hate talking about the weather.” Or, “It’s so superficial.”

Small talk almost never involves the weather unless you have an awesome segue into something more profound. (Which you should have because people invariably mention the weather when they have no idea what to say!)

And small talk should never be superficial.

If you hate small talk, you’re doing it wrong.

How to make small talk to build relationships.

  1. Have an arsenal of anecdotes. 
  2. Be prepared with segues for the boring stuff. 
  3. Take the attention off yourself without asking questions. 
  4. Use humor, be like a comedian, and comment on the funny parts of life or your situation.
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Have an Arsenal of Anecdotes

I’m not talking about memorizing everything you’ll ever say, but you must start somewhere. If you have a long-term objective of being an excellent networker who’s phenomenal at small talk, you must set up your short-term objectives. That’s how you build natural habits. 

After practicing your anecdotes for a few weeks, telling short stories to new acquaintances or people who make you nervous becomes completely natural.

Why do I teach my clients to have an arsenal of anecdotes? Because all the other advice out there is crap. They tell you to ask questions! That invariably leads to a brick wall.

Ben: How’s it going?
Jane: Good, thanks, you?
Ben: Excellent, thanks. Whatcha been doing lately?
Jane: Uhhhh. (Draws a blank.)

The other advice I see online is to ask crazy open-ended questions, like what would you do if you were stranded on an island with nothing but coconuts to eat? What?! I’m supposed to ask a stupid question like that to my interviewer or when I meet someone for the first time at a party? That would be so weirdly awkward.

Those types of questions have a place. To help kids and adults develop their imagination, their communication skills, and turn-taking. Try these types of games when you already know someone.

So when I discuss small talk, I’m referring to meeting someone for the first time, the initial minutes of a meeting or an interview, being on a first date, and things like that.

What to do: Think about things that have occurred to you in your life that may have been funny, embarrassing, scary, or any type of human emotion, and practice telling them. Be sure to record yourself.

If you can become an objective scientist here, the process will be much faster.

The Voice Spa online video course will help you here, but I’ll continue with the instructions.

Then write down a revised version of your tale. Practice and record a few times until it becomes your core messaging.

As soon as you tell people your human interest story, they’ll be clamoring to tell you the story it made them think of. 

That’s how you get people talking! And that’s the goal, right? The consensus is that you have to ask questions to get people talking, but it’s actually telling a short story that evokes emotion.

Let me know how it goes in the comments below, and come to me if you need a session or two to guide you through the process.

Small Talk & The Art of the Segue

Sometimes small talk can go into an unproductive destination.

Of course, when people speak about their ailments, it’s a good idea to sympathize but then be prepared for a segue. We want to keep the conversation going in a positive direction.

Perhaps after listening for 5 minutes about someone’s physical ailments, you can say, “Well, you look the picture of good health, but I wish you the best with your healing. I burned my right hand when cooking the other day. It hurt, but then I had to start using my left hand for typing and holding things; I felt, hey, this is good for my brain! Btw, did you know that mushrooms are good for your memory? An excuse to eat mushroom risotto.”

Don’t try to be accurate with when things happened. If the burning your hand experience happened a month ago, you can still say “the other day”.

Speak kindly.

Kindness is what we need in the world today. The easiest & simplest way to be kind is to smile at someone & wish them well. Who knows? Maybe that person is suffering & you’ve just made them feel great. It’s a gift you can give to others, making you both feel great.

Obviously, in a huge crowded city, you can’t make eye contact with everyone you meet, but when you’re on line at the deli, you can easily smile & say, “This place makes the best chicken cutlets.” or “I love your necklace!” 

The first utterance will cause your listener to tell you what they love about that deli, and the second will likely generate an explanation about the necklace. “Thanks. I got it in Mexico on my honeymoon.”

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Making small talk on social media.

Speak kindly on social media, too! We make small talk with strangers all the time. Respect others’ opinions. Debating is great but do it without hate. Debate to come to a better conclusion.

Supporting others on social is a great way to get more fans/friends and possibly work.

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Making Small Talk Builds Strong Relationships

Since there’s such a pervasive misconception about making small talk or chit-chat, most of us don’t know how to do it. Remember that if you feel nervous to start a conversation, chit chat, or comment to a stranger, they are likely feeling the same way. Maybe even worse.

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So focus on your simple intention: You’re just trying to make their day a little nicer. Diverting your attention to them instead of worrying about yourself can help with nerves. 

When done correctly, we can establish strong relationships that last. This is why I want you to have an arsenal of anecdotesAfter practicing them a few times, it’ll be easy enough to develop your own incredible (very) short stories on the spot and engage with new friends with ease.

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Small talk can be brief.

No time for making small talk? 

When you see someone you know at the supermarket or whatnot, & you don’t have time or the desire to talk, don’t say, “I have to run & pick up the kids!” Or “I have to go take a shower!” That’s just weird. 

Nobody cares what you have to do & it’s possible they have to take a shower & pick up their kids. Don’t be presumptuous, and watch for body language cues, such as fidgeting or glancing at a watch or clock, that suggest the person you’re talking to might be in a hurry.

Here’s what you do:

Offer your hand or fist bump, say, “Hey! So great to see you! What a great time we had last time! Let’s do it again soon.” or “How was the graduation? I was thinking of you all!”

All while you’re still walking away like Larry David.

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7 thoughts on “4 Definitive Techniques to Making Small Talk”

  1. I’ve always struggled with small talk! I hate the uncomfortable feeling I get any time a stranger strikes up a conversation with me. I love the tip recommending to shift to the mindset of how small talk is like making someone’s day a little nicer. This is definitely something that I can put into practice in my own daily life.

    1. Yes! And when we think of small talk, we should think of “relationship building.” And we all need great relationships in our lives. So it’s worth it to hone our stories.
      Thank you for your lovely comment, Brittney!

  2. Daring Discussions

    I tend to hate small talk. I never really saw the point of it until reading this. I have a new perspective for the next time I have to small talk with a stranger.

  3. Changed my perspective on small talk right here! I’ve bad-mouthed small talk for as long as I can remember. A lot of missed opportunities.

    1. Yup. Small talk has been misunderstood and demonized for so long.

      Nothing worth anything in life is easy. But mastering small talk doesn’t take too much effort. The rewards are exponential!

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