How to Make Small Talk
Have approachable body language. If you want to make a person feel comfortable, the best thing to do is to have an "open stance" and to direct your body toward that person without being too forceful. Just make eye contact, don't cross your arms, and face your shoulders toward that person. This will make the person feel like you're giving him all of your attention and that you're not just lukewarm about talking to him. Maintain the right distance from the person.
- If you're seeing someone you already know, just say hello and greet her by her name: ” Hi, Jen, it's good to see you.“ This is simple and direct and lets the person know you're excited to talk.
- If you don't know the person, introduce yourself first so you feel more confident and in control of the conversation. Just say, ” Hi, I'm Marla, what's your name?” Repeat the person's name when she tells it to you, and she'll feel more special.
Just a simple, ” I love your shoes. Where did you get them?” can get you into a fun conversation about shoe shopping. Even if the compliment doesn't lead anywhere, it will still make the person feel more appreciated before you start discussing other subjects. You can also use this move earlier, as a way to actually introduce yourself to someone.
Anything that the person can relate to and that establishes a connection, however tenuous, can be considered
common ground. Remember that the "small stuff" can lead you to talk about the things that matter to you.
Here are some ways to establish common ground:
- Professor Hoffer is hilarious.
- Ashley throws the most amazing parties.
- Can you believe all of this rain?
Once you've established some common ground, you can use it to elaborate and say something a bit more personal.
You shouldn't say something so personal that it freaks the person out, but you can ease in to talking about
yourself just a bit more.
Here are some things to say to follow up with the last statements:
- He's the best teacher I ever had. He's basically the reason I'm an English major.
- I actually met Ashley last year, when Ben took me to her party.
- The rain is just awful. I'm training for a marathon and had to do my long runs on the treadmill - it's the worst.
Now that you've established common ground and have revealed something about yourself, it's time to engage the
other person and get her talking by asking her to reveal some information about herself. Don't ask anything
too personal, like asking about the person's health, religion, or political views. Just keep it light and
fun and ask open-ended questions about the person's interests, job, or surroundings.
Here's how you can engage the other person:
- How about you? Are you an English major, or are you here for Professor Hoffer's crazy stories?
- Did you go to that party, or is this your first time here? It was fun, but I drank too many mint juleps.
- How about you? Has the rain kept you from doing anything fun this week?
Listening to things that the person says can help you pinpoint new common ground and to steer the conversation in a more fun or productive direction. The person may make a small comment that's tangential to your question or topic, so keep your ears open and see if something the person says can trigger a new line of conversation.
After you've made small talk but have to go, whether it's to get back to office or to talk to someone else at the party, you should make the person feel important, not like you were just paying your dues by talking to him. Here are some ways to end the conversation politely:
- It's been great talking to you. I'll let you know how that paella recipe works out for me.
- I'd love to talk more about Spain, but I haven't said hi to Nina yet, and it looks like she's about to leave.
- Oh, there's my best friend, Kelley. Have you met her yet? Come on, I'll introduce you.
- I wish I could keep talking to you, but AP Calculus is calling my name. I'm sure I'll see you soon, though.