By Gill Hasson, author of Communication: How to Connect with Anyone
Small talk can lead to big things!
Small talk is simply about connecting; to come across as an approachable, friendly person who is open to exchanging a few pleasantries. You don’t have to impress, you don‘t have to be brilliant. You just have to be nice. Smile, ask questions, listen, take a genuine interest in the other person and say something about yourself.
Make the first move. If you’re at a party, convention or any other social gathering, choose a person who seems approachable; someone standing by themselves is a good bet, then just smile and say, "Hi, I’m.… What's your name?"
Don’t worry about coming up with clever conversation starters or having the ‘right’ thing to say. It doesn’t matter if you make the usual comments “It’s so cold today!” or questions; ‘How do you know Ali?’ or ‘Have you been here before?’ or ‘What do you do / where do you work?’ but you do need to be interested in and follow up on their answers.
You might comment or ask their opinion on something that both you and the other person are experiencing; where you’re both at and what's around you. For example, say ‘I really love this restaurant’. It’s likely they’ll ask you why. But if they don’t, ask what they think of the place and how it compares to other restaurants they’ve been to.
Just about anything you find curious or interesting can start a conversation Maybe you recently read or heard about something interesting? Maybe you heard an interesting idea or theory? Tell them then ask their opinion about it.
Still feeling apprehensive? Imagine that the other person is already your friend. You know a friend would respond positively if you started chatting so pretend this person is already a friend.
Ask questions. Ask open questions that require more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer and give the other person an opportunity to talk about themselves, their opinions or experiences. Simple questions such as, ‘Why’s that?’ ‘Why not?’ ‘What was that like?’ can keep people talking. Ask questions about thoughts and feelings too; ‘What did you think about that’? and ‘How do/ did you feel about that?’ And when someone tells you about something they’ve done or experienced, ask them; “What was the best thing about it?” and ‘What was the worst thing about it?’ ‘Why?’
Listen and respond to answers. If, for some reason, you’re finding it difficult to pay attention to what someone else is saying, tell yourself that you’ll tell someone else about this conversation later on. If you imagine that you’re going to repeat what they said to someone else, you'll be less distracted, more focused and more likely to ask questions to ensure that you’re clear about what the other person is saying.
Keep the conversation going; draw on your own experience or knowledge or of what the other person is talking about and tell them your thoughts and ideas about it.
Say something about yourself. Be willing to share a bit of yourself; who you are, what you do, what you do and don’t like and find interesting etc. Share your ideas, experiences opinions. When the other person asks you a question, respond with more than the minimum; give the other person something to pick up on.
Finally, know when to stop and pull out. If the conversation feels like climbing a hill of sand then it may be time to move on or let silence take over. You can't connect with everyone, and some conversations simply refuse to take life! Either way, end the conversation with something nice. For example, “It was nice talking to you. I’m going to get a drink / some food/ catch up with a friend before she leaves.”
Gill Hasson is the bestselling author of a number of books on personal wellbeing. Her most recent book, Communication: How to Connect with Anyone has just been published by Capstone (August 2019). She is a careers coach with over 20 years’ experience in the areas of personal & career development. She is also a teacher for mental health organisations, and delivers training for adult education organisations, voluntary and business organisations and the public sector. Follow: @gillhasson