People who are naturally good at small talk are an unusually lucky lot. While they can easily ramble on about, well, anything, we’re stuck brainstorming what to say next.
Thankfully, I have good news for us. Thanks to Reddit and this thread, that luck is being spread around a bit.
Here are 10 secrets to being a small talk pro, shared by mysterious internet experts who we can only hope to run into at a networking event one day.
1. Pretend You’re Talking to an Old Friend
I go with the ‘never met a stranger’ approach. I talk to everyone like I’ve known them for years.
Praised as the best advice from the thread, the concept of approaching small talk as if you were conversing with someone you’re good friends with is as simple as a change in perception.
2. Assume the Best in People
When you meet someone, ASSUME they are nice. ASSUME that they are your friend. You can introduce yourself LATER. For example, today I was at a grad party. Sat near someone I didn’t know. I didn’t introduce myself and ask them to be my friend. I said the food was good and made a joke about how some young kid had been googling their food.
You’ve probably been taught about stranger danger since you were a child, but those instincts won’t do you any good when you’re trying to get to know people. The faster you open up, the more likely it is that you can skip that boring “what’s your name and what do you do?” conversation.
3. Know that No One is Good With Names
Here’s the thing nobody realizes. Everybody is bad at names. Everybody. So saying ‘I'm so sorry, what’s your name again?’ is not really too bad. A lot of the time it gives them the chance to ask you the same because, again, everybody is bad at names.
This one is a bit of a relief to learn about. Turns out remembering names is hard for everyone. So, don’t feel bad if you need a quick reminder. You probably wouldn’t hold it against anyone, and it’s unlikely anyone would hold it against you.
4. Keep the Focus on Your Conversation Partner
Make people talk about themselves.
One of the hardest things about small talk is finding something to talk about besides the weather. But, pro networkers have figured out that most people like to talk about themselves. Take that and run with it.
5. Make Connections and Give Compliments
And share stuff that relates to what they’re saying, especially if it shows some commonality. At the end of any story they tell, you generally want to react one of two ways: (1) ‘That’s so cool and is so similar to something I experienced!’ (i.e. I’m like you!) [or] (2) ‘That’s amazing and I’ve never met someone who did it!’ (i.e. you are a special snowflake and I’m impressed!)
A conversation is a two-way street, so don’t forget to make some connections with the stories you’re hearing. If all else fails, compliments are pretty universally well received.
6. Read Up on Current Events
Stay up to date with news and current events and people will think your intelligence has doubled.
You hopefully do this already. (If not, here are some ideas for how to build it into your routine.) To make yourself small talk ready, just kick it up a notch and have an educated opinion. With that said, don’t come up with an inflammatory thought just for the sake of having one. Instead, stay current on what you care about, and your passion and knowledge will shine through.
7. Be Interested
Not exactly an expert, but I know the secret: good small talkers are people who are genuinely interested in the trivial minutiae of other people’s lives. I can pretend for a while, but I usually quickly get bored and impatient unless I’m talking to a genuinely interesting person. Great small talkers are the people can find the interesting bits about anyone and truly enjoy it.
There’s nothing that makes a person more interesting than being interested. Period. So, rather than faking enthusiasm about someone’s impending move, work to find a topic you both care about—whether it’s upcoming weekend plans, an adorable puppy, a new TV show, or the food being passed around.
8. Channel Your Inner Puppy
I try to do something I call the Puppy Effect. Everyone loves puppies. Basically the idea is to act like a puppy—you act happy and excited to see someone. Chances are they will most likely reciprocate your enthusiasm because most people will mimic your response to them. Just don’t jump on anyone or try to lick them.
I love this advice. The visual it brings to mind is a little unusual, but the idea makes sense. Enthusiasm is infectious. When people smile, you want to smile back. Why not use this knowledge to your advantage when you’re chatting with strangers? It’s genius.
9. Put Yourself Out There As Much As Possible
Practice. The more you do it, the better you get at it.
This probably isn’t the advice you were hoping for, but that’s the reality. You’ll get better at small talking the more you do it and that’s that.
10. Keep Calm and Carry On
Just relax. Most people aren’t evil/horrible/out to get you. Just bring up common things, sports, movies, music, bound to find something you can talk about.
All that said, in the end small talk isn’t a big deal, so let’s just not make it a big deal. Relax and know that only you are freaking out about or even aware of all the little mistakes you think you’re making in a conversation.