I’ll be the first one to admit it: Small talk can be downright boring. Yes, it’s a widely accepted professional pleasantry—but you and I both know that it often means buckling up for a seemingly endless string of painfully mundane anecdotes.
After all, if you politely ask me during a networking event what I did over the weekend, you probably don’t really want to hear about how I ate reheated lasagna for four meals in a row and avoided doing my laundry. And, if you ask how my day was, you probably aren’t all that pumped about hearing the intricacies of my last eight hours.
But, alas, we all feel the undeniable pressure to fill that uncomfortable silence—which results in some, well, less-than-thrilling stories spewing out of our mouths from time to time.
However, it doesn’t need to be that way. I have a few simple tips you can implement to make even your driest, most boring, snore-worthy story at least a little bit more interesting.
1. Be Prepared
Before we go any further, let’s take a look at the first part of the problem: Most people don’t think their own small talk stories are interesting, simply because they aren’t actually telling stories. After all, responding to a standard question like, “How was your day?” with “It was fine, how was yours?” doesn’t really count as a compelling narrative.
So, the first part of the process is to actually tell a story. Whether it’s about the coffee you spilled all over your desk first thing in the morning, an interesting project that kept you challenged all day, or a funny conversation you had with a co-worker earlier, find something that has a clear beginning, middle, and end that deserves more than a few short, halfhearted words.
Even if it isn’t a moving monologue that would be best complimented by a string orchestra soundtrack, being armed with some sort of narrative you can build upon will be helpful.
2. Cut the Rambling
Let’s face it—small talk can be uncomfortable, which inspires many of us to awkwardly ramble and bury the lead in our stories. After we’ve fumbled our way through plenty of filler words and completely unnecessary details, we finally sort of, kind of, almost get to the meatiest part of the narrative.
Unfortunately, this lengthy introduction takes your already dull story and makes it even drearier. And, you definitely don’t want that.
So, regardless of whether you’re sharing an anecdote at a networking event, in a job interview, or just with a professional acquaintance you ran into, do your best to cut the rambling and get to the meat and potatoes of your story. It’ll keep your audience that much more engaged.
3. Find Some Common Ground
Have you ever had a friend sit you down and force you to look through all of his or her photos from a recent vacation? Chances are, you were bored to tears. It sounds brutal, but it’s human nature—we have very little interest in things that don’t directly pertain to us.
If you really want your conversational partner to be engaged in whatever story you’re telling, it’s best to base your chosen anecdote off of something you have in common.
Whether it’s a shared interest or a contact you both know, talking about something that at least somewhat resonates with your conversational partner will help to keep his or her interest—even if your story itself isn’t all that gripping.
4. Don’t Skip All the Details
You might be tempted to cut out all of the details involved with your story. And, true, they can feel somewhat flowery and unnecessary at times—and you definitely don’t want to drone on for ages in an effort to adequately describe something totally insignificant.
However, remember that a few details are also what gives your narrative a little life and interest. So, resist the urge to eliminate all of them.
Think about it: Would you want to listen to a story where the scene was never set and all adjectives were removed? Probably not. Your anecdote about that presentation you aced doesn’t hold the same impact if you skip the part about how nervous you were about it.
So, while you don’t want to overdo it with the unnecessary minutiae of your story, don’t hesitate to get a little theatrical and descriptive to keep things interesting.
5. Keep it Short
With that being said, you should still make an effort to keep your story fairly brief—after all, it’s called small talk for a reason. If your anecdote takes longer than a minute for you to get through (yes, you need to leave time to breathe), then it’s probably a little too long-winded.
I get it—you worry that a concise narrative will lead to even more awkward silence. But, remember that you’re having a conversation—not putting on a performance. You don’t want to monopolize the discussion and never give your partner a chance to respond.
Small talk is a simple pleasantry—not something that’s designed to dig into your deepest thoughts, feelings, and ambitions. It’s great for filling the silence in a long line or during an awkward introduction, but there’s no denying that it can also lead to some pretty mundane stories being shared.
Before launching into an anecdote just to say something, ask yourself this: If someone else were telling you this story, would you find it at all interesting? If your answer is, “Absolutely not,” you’re probably better off asking questions of your partner to keep the conversation moving—or, when in doubt, leaning on that faithful standby of chatting about the weather.
Photo of people talking courtesy of Morsa Images/Getty Images.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author