11 top tips for making small talk in English!
You may be able to give expert speeches, wonderful presentations and professional talks on topics of your choice, but can you make small talk*? There are times in life when you need to chat and make casual conversation. For example, as you’re waiting to be served in a shop, while you’re travelling in a bus or train, or while you’re sitting in the waiting room at a dental clinic. And in business, the social aspect of a business relationship is often as important as the professional one. Here are our top 11 tips for making small talk.
The number-one rule when making small talk is to listen. Make a conscious effort to remember what the other person is saying. Then, you can use this information to generate more conversation.
2. Ask questions!
In order to keep the conversation going, ask lots of open questions with question words such as who, why, what, when and where. For example:
■ What did you think of the conference?
■ Where did you go for your last holidays?
■ Who did you see at the party last week?
3. Show interest!
While you’re talking to someone, focus exclusively on that person. And use your body language to show that you’re interested: face the person, use eye contact and nod your head at appropriate moments. Also, use conversational fillers such as “ah, ha / really? /amazing!” to show that you’re interested in what they’re saying… even if you aren’t!
4. Ask follow-up questions!
For every piece of information that you hear, ask follow-up questions. For example:
A: So, what do you do?
B: I’m a lawyer.
A: Oh, really? What motivated you to go into law?
5. Focus on them!
Try to avoid always turning the attention of the conversation back on yourself. For example, if someone mentions that they’ve just been to Italy, don’t respond with, “Oh, I’ve been there. We went there last year.” Instead, use this information as an opportunity to ask lots of questions about the other person’s trip: Oh, really, where did you go? Who did you go with? What was it like? What did you see?
6. Keep it light!
Keep the topic of your conversation light and entertaining; and avoid saying anything that could be interpreted as criticism. Above all, steer clear of potentially controversial topics such as religion and politics.
Practise making small talk whenever you can. Chat with shop assistants, bank cashiers, waiters, taxi drivers… and try to get into conversation when you’re in a queue, in a lift or in the doctors’ waiting room. The more you practise, the better you’ll get.
8. Read, watch & listen!
Keep up-to-date on the latest news so you’ll always have something to talk about; and try to read things on a wide variety of topics: cookery, television, music, sports, fashion, art, baseball, Russia, butter, hip-hop, shoes, poetry… anything goes!
9. Write it down!
Write down any interesting stories you hear, or details of funny things that have happened to you. Later, you can use these anecdotes to brighten up a dull conversation. For example:
■ I’ve had a terrible day. Just as I was leaving home…
■ Something really funny happened to me the other day. Just as I got to work…
■ I had a nightmare at the hotel yesterday.
■ I heard this funny story on the news last night.
10. Put it into context!
Think carefully about where you are. For example, if you’re at a wedding, think of all the relevant things you could ask: How do you know the bride? How long have you been friends with the groom? How did you get here? Where are you staying? Or, if you’re visiting a new company, you could ask the following: What’s it like working here? How easy is it to get into the city centre? Where’s a good place to get lunch round here? Etc.
11. Top topics
If you’re ever running out of conversation, use one of these conversation topics:
the news, film, football, sport, music, the weather, fashion, literature, cars, hobbies, the weekend, videogames, the theatre, family, local topics (shops, clubs, etc.), TV, celebrities, scandals, holidays, travel, entertainment, work, your hometown, food, traditions, customs
■ I went to this great restaurant last night.
■ What are you doing this weekend?
■ I saw this incredible film last week.
Small talk can be a lot of fun, but you need to prepare for it and practise. And remember, small talk can lead to big business!
Casual conversation with friends, work colleagues or acquaintances based on trivial topics (such as the weather, cinema, family…) in an informal setting: waiting for a bus, in a lift, at a business lunch, having a coffee in a café, at a party…
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