You probably envision a conversation about the weather when you hear the term “small talk” and, if you’re like a lot of people, it has a tendency to make you cringe. While small talk can often be synonymous with awkward, superficial, unnecessary and impersonal, it plays an important role in your personal and professional life.
Why small talk is important
When meeting someone new, it's almost impossible to bypass small talk – and that's a good thing! Often, when you meet someone for the first time, you don’t know much about them and starting the conversation off with small talk can help establish common ground. While questions such as “What industry do you work in?” or “How do you like the city?” may seem repetitive and cliché, they act as useful tools for digging into deeper topics and building relationships.
If you find yourself at a professional networking event or job interview, it is important to know how to use small talk effectively to make a good impression. While small talk caters to topics that can seem superficial, they are more appropriate for professional settings than personal topics. Past work experiences and industries that interest you are both good topics to use to build rapport with someone you want to impress. We’ll cover some go-to tips for mastering this in just a few.
The human connection
Whether you are an introvert or extrovert (find out here), humans are innately social beings. Connecting with other people makes us feel good! Even just exchanging a few kind words with a co-worker or a stranger at a grocery store can instantly boost your mood.
So you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Ok, I get it. Small talk is important. But how do I make it feel less awkward?!” Have no fear! We have collected a few tried and true tips for mastering small talk and we're about to share them with you.
Becoming a master of small talk
1. Prepare your arsenal of go-to topics: Networking pros are always prepared with a list of appropriate and intriguing topics to bring up in conversations. Will you be attending an industry event or job fair soon? If so, talk about it. Or, do some research on relevant and timely “hot topics” and form an educated opinion. Not only will having interesting things to talk about leave a good impression, it will also stop the conversation from drifting into the ever-exciting weather realm.
2. Asking questions is a good option, but it can also be risky: There is always the potential that you may ask someone a question that brings up a sore or controversial topic. Instead, start off with a relevant story about yourself or one of your experiences and let the conversation flow from there. If you do want to ask questions, be sure you think them through beforehand.
3. Relax, it will all be ok: One of the main reasons some people dread small talk is because they worry what the other participants in the conversation may think. One of the best things you can do to prevent awkward situations is to simply RELAX. Let the conversation flow and don’t get caught up in little “mistakes."
4. Reading between the lines: It is always a good idea to pay attention to the other person’s body language during small talk. Do they look like they want to say something? Do they look distracted? This can help you gauge how to progress the conversation or decide if it's time to say goodbye.
5. Move small talk into real talk: Imagine you ask someone where they are from and they reply “San Francisco.” Use this opportunity to talk about the time you flew there for a tech conference and afterwards had dinner at a delicious sushi restaurant near the pier. Or, if you’ve never been there, ask about their favorite thing to do or place to eat in the city and find something in their answer you can relate to. In other words, use small talk to find common ground with people – it will result in deeper, more meaningful conversations.
After reading this article, we don’t expect you to be filled with excitement and counting down the minutes until your next small talk encounter. We DO hope that these tips will make it easier to strike up a conversation with a stranger and make a great impression. Small talk is useful in many situations, especially for those who are in the job market and looking to network.
Together, we can make “how’s the weather?” a thing of the past!