How to Make Small Talk

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Making small talk is an important skill for a variety of social situations. Business dinners, weddings, corporate parties and even first dates require carrying on conversations with people you may not know well. Making small talk is an art that can be mastered. Having an arsenal of topics you are comfortable chatting about is a good place to begin.

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Preparing for conversation doesn’t mean doing a month’s worth of reading while taking notes just for an evening of cocktails. Prepare small talk for your event by coming up with two or three topics you would feel comfortable talking about if there is a lull in the conversation. Try current events, a favorite trip you’ve taken or a non-confrontational topic like cooking. Ask questions that require a story rather than a one-word answer, recommends writer Jessica Stillman in the article “How to Make Small Talk Way More Fun," published on Inc.com. For example, “How did you get started in your line of work?” requires a story, whereas “What do you do for a living,” can be answered in just a few words.

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Begin small talk by making eye contact and offering the person a warm and inviting smile. This reduces tension and tells the other person you are open to a conversation. In his book "Talking With Confidence for the Painfully Shy," author Don Gabor asserts that eye contact with another person for five to 10 seconds indicates curiosity and is considered friendly. However, never stare directly into another person’s eyes too intensely, as this can make him feel uncomfortable.

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Most conversations begin with introductions. If you are approaching a group at an event where people are already talking, wait until there is a lull in the conversation and introduce yourself. Keep your introduction simple -- your name and what you do is enough to bring you into the conversation. The Shyness Research Institute, in the article “How to Make Successful Small Talk: The Key to Connecting, Not Just Conversing,” suggests ending your introduction with a hook that others can latch onto for continued conversation. For example, if you work at a pet shop you might say, “I work at a pet store. You would not believe the unusual pets people buy.” This gives others in the group an opportunity to share an experience that relates to what you do.

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Keep the conversation positive, especially with people you’ve only just met. Keeping the chit chat focused on positive things will help people feel better rather than worse after having a conversation with you, reminds writer Lindsay Holmes, in the Huffington Post article "5 Ways to Make Better Small Talk (Without Talking About the Weather)." Asking someone about her day, offering a sincere compliment or keeping the mood light by making the other person laugh are all ways to begin small talk that leads to a positive conversation.

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