Monthly Archives: January 2008

How To Make Small Talk Easy And Fun

A lot of people are quite comfortable speaking, even with strangers, if they have a purpose for the conversation that they understand, but they can really struggle with knowing how to make small talk. All social and work situations begin with small talk, where you make the effort to engage with people. If you are going to make a connection with people around you hen you need to know how to make small talk.

The problem is that knowing how to make small talk can be very difficult for some people.  They can even be nervous making everyday conversations with people and often the reason behind this nervousness is a lack of knowledge of what to talk about. But you can acquire this skill of making small talk. There are a few small talk topics that should never let you down, whatever situation you are in:

1. Look around you

Your surroundings should provide you with something to talk about. Whatever you’re doing, you are in the same situation with the person to whom you are speaking, so there is common ground there. Even if you are only queuing up for the coffee machine you can make a remark about how long the line of people is, or about how you should drink less coffee or whatever. Aim for a casual but pleasant attitude. Opening the conversation signals to others that you are ready and willing to talk and they will be likely to reciprocate.

Hopefully, the other person will make a casual comment and you have got the conversation started. It gets easier from there. If you are just met with a smile, they may not be willing to talk; don’t worry and don’t take it personally.  Either take some time to be quiet too, or you could smile and make eye contact with someone else; if they want to talk, they will pick up on that, having heard you just speak.

2. What do you want to know about other people?

A first meeting is no time to grill someone on their personal life; but think of a friend and the things you share in common like work, hobbies, families etc. Think about what you normally talk about too. All of these things are potential topics for small talk with someone else. Quite neutral topics are work, family and where someone lives so you could begin your small talk with asking about any of those things.

3. Ask about their day so far

People appreciate it if you ask about them in a friendly manner, so you could always try asking them how their day has been so far. Even in a store you might ask the cashier if they have been busy today. It’s a good, simple ice-breaker and will often lead the other person to open up, even if it just a little. You will usually find that they smile because you have asked after their welfare too, and it is surprising how much easier you will find small talk once you have got a smile from the other person. It will give you and real psychological boost.

4. Talk about current affairs

The news is just that: news. People like to keep up with what is happening in the news, so a question like ‘did you read in the newspapers how…?” or “did you see why (whoever) was on the news last night?” will usually open up a good conversation. Depending upon who you are talking to, you may not want to raise a particularly sad item or a gruesome crime, but if you have chatted with the person before, perhaps they are a colleague, you can chat about these things too as people tend to unite against such things and you will soon find yourself on the same side and involved in a conversation about society today.

So, keep these topics in mind and practice them on a few people in your daily life and you will soon discover that you really do know how to make small talk.

The Best Questions to Keep A Conversation Going

You’ve done the most difficult part; you have started a conversation and you have got some response from the person you are talking with. That is not the end of the need for questions within the conversation though. A conversation needs to be a bit like a tennis match, where exchanges go to and from like the tennis ball in a volley.

You need questions to keep a conversation going. Questions help to progress the conversation, to allow you to find out more about someone; they make it possible to gain understanding and they to bring in quiet people to keep a conversation going and include everyone.

Questions to Progress a Conversation:

These questions help the conversation along by relating to what you have been talking about and taking it to a greater depth. The question should be easy to answer, include everyone and not cause offence to anyone. Some examples would be:

If talking about sport:

1. What did you think to their last game?

This is particularly useful when you have established a mutual liking for a sport with the person that you are talking to. Perhaps you have even discovered that you both support the same team.

2. What do you think to their chances of winning this season?

Again, this is great if you like the same sports and at least know which team(s) you are talking about.

3. Have you got membership of a club or a gym?

This shouldn’t seem like you are suggesting they need one, but if you have discovered a mutual interest in keeping fit or saunas or something like that, you may find you belong to the same health club; or perhaps if you don’t you could progress the friendship by taking up a club membership together so that you will meet regularly doing something you both enjoy.

4. What sports do you like to take part in as well as watch?

This question is useful because you react quite differently to sports as a participant rather than simply a spectator.

If talking about pets:

1. Have you ever entered a pet show?

This is useful if the person you are talking to seems particularly proud of their dog, cat etc. You can then go on to chat about the experience of participating in these shows or preparing the pet for it. It may even lead to some funny stories along the way.

2. Why did you choose that particular breed?

People will love the chance to espouse the wonders of their particular chosen breed of pet.

3. Was your pet easy to train?

Again, this can lead to funny stories if you find that they have trained their pet in some way; it could be as simple as house-training; it doesn’t have to involve elaborate circus tricks.

If talking about fashion:

1. Have you got a favorite perfume that you tend to use?
2. What’s your favorite clothes store?
3. Which celebrity’s fashion style do you like?
4. Have you got a favorite item of clothing that makes you feel really good when you wear it?

Fashion works well as a topic for women especially. It can lead on to talk of celebrities and/or embarrassing fashion mistakes. It should be light-hearted and you may also find out you like the same celebrities which can lead on to discussion of their art form or sport.

Talking about children:

People love to talk about their children. You’ll find this an easy one if you discover the other person has children.

1. What hobbies do they have?
2. Do they get on well with each other?
3. Which school do they go to?

Talking about food:

None of us can live without food and for most of us it is a real pleasure which will remind you of happy times.

1. What is your favorite meal?
2. Do you have a favorite restaurant?
3. What style of cooking do you like the most?
4. Do you have any favorite recipes?

You will see that some of these questions are closed questions which, strictly speaking, could be answered with a one word ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer; but realistically, because the topics are easy and because they are subjects on which the person with whom you are in conversation is likely to have an opinion and be able ti talk freely upon, they are likely to relax and say much more than one word.

Questions to Include Quiet People:

In order to draw a quiet person into a conversation you need to show some sensitivity; they may not like a lot of attention drawn to them; they may not, however, speak, unless you address them directly by name, so that is a useful technique. Make the question and easy one to answer, such as ‘You saw that movie too, didn’t you? What did you think of it?’

Don’t put people under pressure to answer but if you use an appropriate question and leave a pause for them to answer,  more often than not, they’ll answer. Good questions follow on from the topic being discussed and allow a person to give a simple answer based on their personal opinion, rather than requiring them to possess any particular knowledge.

Great Conversation Starter Questions For Every Situation

Are you comfortable with walking up to someone and starting a conversation? Can you get people talking again when they have descended into eerie silence? If you answered ‘no’ to either of these questions, you might benefit from learning a few more conversation starter questions.

Don’t worry! You are in good company as many people do not feel themselves to be a natural conversation starter; questions many people can quickly think of often seem boring or inappropriate.

The ability to be able to make good conversation easily relies upon being able to ask the right questions at the right time in order to stimulate discussion. And the good news is that you can learn the art of starting a conversation and build up your own little stock of conversation starter questions which will give you a helping hand in many situations.

With the right conversation starter questions you will find it easy to begin conversations with people and this will really boost your confidence. The questions should be quite simple ones so that people can understand them and feel that they are able to answer them. Most of the useful questions that you can ask are open questions.

However, it is fine to ask closed questions so long as they are on a topic which evoke feelings, since then they are unlikely to be met simply with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ in answer.

Which questions you use may differ according to the situation and the person you are talking to, so the conversation starter questions have been loosely grouped into certain situations, in order to give you some guidance.

Conversation Starter Questions Appropriate for Talking to Clerks and Other Staff:

1. Has business been busy today?
2. Have you worked here long?

To Your Neighbor on an Airplane:

1. Do you fly very often?
2. Are you going on vacation or for business?

To a Classmate:

1. Are you enjoying the class?
2. I wonder what the exams will be like?
3. What do you think the tutor will be like?

To People You Are at a Function With:

1. So you have a child in the show?
2. How is you meal?
3. How do you know our hosts?

The above questions are suitable for people that will either be complete strangers or people who you know only a little. The basic knack there is to ask questions about the immediate situation in which you find yourselves, since you know that you have at least that in common.

The next list of conversation starter questions is more appropriate for people whom you see most of the time but may not be particularly close friends with, such as colleagues or classmates in a regular class.

1. What did you think about….? (a recent news event)
2. How was your meeting/class?
3. How are you doing?
4. How are things going with … (the essay, the project, something you know they are engaged in at the moment)?
5. I like your (item of clothing, hairstyle etc); where did you get it?

Conversation Starters for People that you would like to Know Better:

1. How do you like to spend your free time?
2. Do you enjoy…? (a favorite hobby of yours)
3. What do you enjoy about …? (whatever you are engaged in doing together at the moment)
4. If you could change one thing about your life, what
5. would you change?

Don’t worry if you don’t understand any of the responses which you get; just simply ask for clarification. A simple ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t quite understand that’ will usually suffice.

So you can see how useful conversation starter questions are; now hopefully you can also see how they needn’t be difficult to think of.