Simplicity: the secret to successful small talk
You don't have to be brilliant
Professor Bernardo Carducci, director of the Shyness Research Institute in the US, points out, small talk is the starting point for all relationships. What’s more, it’s something everyone can learn. “You don’t have to be brilliant. You just have to be kind and show that you’re willing to talk,” he says.
To get the conversational ball rolling, make a simple comment. It’s an opening gambit, so it doesn’t have to be a bon mot. “Is this the queue for the drinks? The whole company must have turned up,” will do. Then introduce yourself and add a titbit for the other person to pick up on. Instead of saying, “I’m in customer services,” say, “I’m in customer services and you would not believe some of the complaints we get.” You may wish to polish off your networking skills and find out how to follow up on that first meeting with some of our great expert advice.
Toss out a topic
If the chat stalls, toss out a topic, such as “I love Mexican food” when the canapés come round. (Don’t feel like an idiot if it’s ignored. “It may take two or three goes before you get a response,” says Carducci.) Expand on what you’ve said. “But I’m not sure about chocolate with chilli. Do you like that?” to bring in other people.
When you’re ready to go, thank people for the pleasure of their company. The script might go: “I must leave now but it’s been great talking to you—I’ll certainly try that Mexican restaurant. Do let me know if you think of any others.” And give them your number if you mean it.
Top conversation starters
Settings and environment. Generally when two strangers are placed together it is because of a situation. Perhaps you are at a dinner party or are stuck on a train, maybe you are at a networking event. A comment on the environment or immediate surroundings is always relevant. A simple comment on the food, the decor, the music. Take in your surroundings and discuss.
How was your day. Asking questions is a great way to get a conversation flowing. It immediately shows you are interested in the other person as well as making yourself familiar, this also provides opportunity for the conversation to digress and evolve.
Give a compliment. Everyone loves a compliment, although some people struggle to accept them turning modest or perhaps blushing. Compliments are a guaranteed winner at any social occasion.
Future Plans. Asking into the future will provide plenty of opportunity to find out a person's interests, you can find commonalities or enquire into anything unusual or unfamiliar. Just be careful not to pry as you may come across as nosey.
Today's News. A tip that all top networkers practice is keeping on top of the news. A well informed person can be a treat to converse with, asking as well as offering up opinion and inspiring curiousity. Try not to dominate the conversation and be inclusive of others.