When you hear the word “small talk,” you usually think of a chat about the weather or some other nonsense, and if you’re like most people, it probably makes you cringe.
Despite the fact that small talk is generally associated with being uncomfortable and impersonal, it plays a crucial part in both your personal and professional lives.
Don’t ever dismiss the importance of small talk, especially in a business environment.
If you are, however, not yet entirely comfortable with it, my guide on small talk will help you feel less awkward and perhaps even become a small talk master.
Let’s get straight into it!
What is considered small talk?
People frequently engage in small talk regarding certain “safe” subjects.
The weather is arguably the most common topic of conversation among individuals who do not know each other well. Current events are another topic that is typically safe.
Sports news is also a hot topic, especially if a local club or player is competing in a tournament or play-off, or if they are doing exceptionally well or exceptionally poorly.
That being said, there are a few topics that are deemed taboo.
People who do not know one other well do not discuss personal details such as salary or a recent divorce.
Furthermore, it is not safe to discuss topics that society considers to be divisive, such as religion or politics.
Finally, it’s not a good idea to keep talking about something that the other person doesn’t appear interested in or comfortable with.
Why small talk is important
Many people don’t give small talk the credit it deserves, but if you think about it, small talk has some important use cases, such as:
When meeting someone for the first time, you may not know much about them, so opening the discussion with a small chat might help you find common ground.
While inquiries like “What industry do you work in?” and “How do you enjoy the city?” may sound cliché, they are effective tools for delving further into issues and forming bonds, or maybe they are even setting the foundation for future friendships.
If you’re attending a professional networking event or job interview, knowing how to use small talk successfully will help you create a strong first impression.
Past job experiences and sectors that fascinate you are both great subjects to discuss when trying to impress someone.
The human connection
Humans are fundamentally social beings.
It helps us feel wonderful to connect with other individuals – even exchanging a few friendly words with a coworker or a stranger at the supermarket can quickly lift your spirits.
What are good topics for small talk?
Having some fantastic small talk ideas on hand can not only help you start amazing discussions, but it will also ease some of the tension that comes with entering into an unfamiliar situation.
Also, you can use small talk to leverage a situation to your advantage, which is especially helpful in certain business situations, like job interviews or sales meetings.
1. The location/the venue
You can always talk about your surroundings. Are you at a lovely hotel or meeting space? Is the town notable? Have you lately gone anyplace cool in the area?
Discuss all of this with a person and it can even lead to a surprisingly interesting conversation.
Discuss what you’ve been enjoying lately and what’s on your to-do list.
That includes the Netflix program you’re both binge-watching, the podcasts you’re listening to, the books you’re reading, and so on.
If the individual you’re conversing with appreciates art, ask about which museums they’ve been and would like to visit, their favorite exhibitions, favorite artists, and so on.
Changes in the art world can also be discussed. Are there any emerging themes that they’re interested in?
Since practically everyone enjoys eating, food is one of the best small talk subjects.
Ask about their favorite restaurant and ask what places they recommend. If they don’t dine out much, ask about their favorite recipes to prepare at home.
Investigate the interests of the other person.
They’ll be eager to chat about their passions, and you’ll have the opportunity to engage with them on a deeper level.
Inquire about what they do in their spare time, which extracurricular activities they participate in, whether they’re taking any classes, etc.
If you don’t know each other from work, you could start a small talk by asking them a few questions about their job.
Instead of asking conventional questions like “Where do you work?” or “How long have you been there?” Use interesting ones like these small talk examples:
- “My [niece/son/grandchild] is interested in your [profession].” Is there any advice you could give them?”
- “Can you tell me about your favorite feature of your job?” “What motivated you to pursue a career in [field]?”
- “Is there anything about your job that you weren’t expecting when you first started out?”
Some people could talk about sports for the rest of their lives. Others, on the other hand, would rather speak about anything except.
When talking about sports, there are a few guidelines to follow.
First, make sure everyone in your company of two or more is a sports lover. You don’t want to keep someone from taking part.
Second, while an enthusiastic chat is enjoyable, a heated one will do nothing to further your networking aims. Change the subject if you or the other person becomes agitated.
8. The weather
Yes, it’s quite the cliché, but the weather is the ideal topic for small talk. It’s hardly the most exciting conversation opener, but with a little imagination, you can generate some lively debates.
Ask about the other person’s intentions in light of the weather – for example, will they remain at home and watch movies if it’s raining? Will they host a BBQ, go on a hike, etc. if it’s sunny?
You can also talk about their preferred climate and why they prefer it. This typically leads to a conversation about their personalities, which can end up being quite entertaining.
While not everyone you meet will be a world traveler, asking whether they’ve recently visited somewhere intriguing may open up a world of possibilities.
Perhaps they are planning a trip in the near future. Make sure to ask them some follow-up questions about their plans for the trip.
Small talk for interview examples
In every job interview, small talk is unavoidable.
Whether you want to fill the quiet during that shared stroll to the conference room or you want to exchange a few words for a couple of minutes before they jump in with questions, you need to be prepared to participate in some professional small talk.
How can you use that apparently inconsequential dialogue to your advantage and wow the interviewer?
1. Skip the clichés
Yes, discussing the weather is a decent fallback, but it won’t make an impression or make you memorable.
Do yourself a favor and avoid clichés and generalizations in this particular situation since everyone else will probably use them, and you don’t want to be “just another candidate” they will forget about the moment you walk out the door!
2. Find a common interest
Remember all that LinkedIn snooping you did? Is there anything you and your interviewers have in common?
Do they help animals in need? If you’re a dog lover, bring it up (naturally) in the conversation. If you have a common hobby or interest, use it as a starting point for small talk since it creates an instant bond.
Tread carefully, though – you don’t want to come off as a creepy stalker.
3. Comment on something company-related
You’re there to prove that you’d be a good match for the firm, so show them that you’re interested in what’s going on.
While you’re waiting, keep your eyes peeled for conversation starters.
Don’t be scared to use tidbits about the firm as a nice and relevant topic of small talk with your interviewer.
4. Ask Questions
Small talk can be difficult, but when you’re in a panic, this simple trick can really assist.
Responding to their “How are you?” with an open-ended question will help take the focus off of you.
For example, you can say, “I’m OK, thank you. How about you? Did you get any fascinating work done this morning?”
When you find yourself in a situation where getting into small talk is unavoidable, relax and remember you don’t need a small talk conversation script – simply use the above mentioned topics and question to get the conversation going.
Once the other person realizes you’re comfortable exchanging small pleasantries, they won’t have any issues continuing the topic at hand.
And who knows, that small talk might play an important role in your professional life – you never know when an interviewer or a potential customer might get a great impression of you from only a few exchanged sentences about a random topic!