Ever notice that seem people seem naturally gifted at small talk? They can seemingly carry a conversation with anyone, anywhere at any time.
For most of my life, I’ve always felt uncomfortable with small talk. Perhaps it seemed too superficial. Or I didn’t like the attention. Or sometimes I just didn’t know what to say.
But over time, with deliberate practice, I’ve become much better at starting and maintaining conversations with total strangers.
Here are three tips that you might find helpful:
1. Be prepared. The first step in getting better at small talk is taking just a few minutes to think ahead. Before going to that next event or situation, take some time to prepare. Having a few good questions in your back pocket will give you the confidence to start the conversation.
Additionally, make sure you’ve thought about how you are going to end the conversation. One simple way to wrap a conversation that has run its course is simply to smile and say, “It’s been great speaking with you.”
2. Get out of your head. It’s incredibly easy to get wrapped up in your own head when speaking with others and think that the other person is hanging on every word you say. Psychologists refer to this as the “spotlight” fallacy.
But believe it or not, most people don’t notice the details that we think are glaringly obvious. For example, one professor conducted an experiment where he asked a student to wear a Barry Manilow t-shirt to class. The student expected that at least half of the students would notice such a outrageous fashion faux pas. In fact, only 20% did. It simply wasn’t as big of a deal as he thought it was.
The secret to getting out of your head is found in tip number three.
3. Be interested. Instead of figuring out ways to be interesting, focus on being genuinely interested in the other person. One of the best ways to start a conversation is by asking about things you have in common. Even if you are meeting the person for the very first time, you have at least two things in common: you are in the same location geographically and chronologically.
For example, if you are both at an event you can ask if they’ve been to the event before, how they like the event, etc. You can then expand to ask about the part of the city you are in (or the city itself) (e.g. “How often do come downtown?”).
If it’s a Friday night in November, you can ask about their week, their weekend, their Thanksgiving plans, etc.
Introverts are said to hate small talk because it feels shallow. So be willing to ask deeper questions. However, be careful that you ask conversation-provoking questions (not necessarily thought-provoking questions). Asking someone which historical figure they’d like to meet is a good question for a night around the campfire or a college essay but it’s not a particularly easy question to answer on the spot.
What are some of your small talk tips? Share them in the comments section below.