How to Make Small Talk With Anybody
Written by Phylicia Masonheimer | May 23, 2018
With weddings, graduations, open houses and other social events coming this summer, it’s in every girl’s best interest to learn the art of conversation. This is easier said than done—especially for the introverts among us! But regardless of personality type, conversation can be difficult. Small talk—those shallow conversations we have with strangers and acquaintances—is everyone’s least favorite pastime. But it’s also essential to building relationships! The foundation we lay in small talk shows us which relationships have potential for depth and pursuit.
Today we’ve broken down some small-talk ideas for different situations and people. As you read this, keep in mind that the heart of good manners and conversation is selflessness. When we are focused on ourselves, we become insecure and paranoid about what people think about us. But when we focus on others, we are naturally better at conversation and less concerned about how we’re perceived.
Making small talk with… a college student
It’s common at graduations to run into older siblings and friends of the graduate. Whether you’re talking to someone who is headed to school or currently attending, here are a few things you can ask to continue a conversation:
“What school are you attending? How did you choose that university?”
“What’s your major? What do you enjoy most about that program?”
“Where are you headed in the fall?”
“You’re attending community college? Me too! Are you going for anything in particular? Where will you transfer to?”
As they answer, use that answer to build another question. Don’t be afraid of pauses! That doesn’t mean the conversation is failing. It means you’re both thinking about the next step.
Making small talk with… a young mom
As you get older, you’ll start having friends and acquaintances who get married and have children, perhaps before you do. This doesn’t mean you won’t have anything to talk about. Here are some questions you can ask a young mom or pregnant acquaintance:
“How did you choose your baby’s name?”
“What’s your favorite part about having a [baby/toddler/three-year-old]?”
“What activities and events are great for kids in this area? I’m babysitting this summer!”
Making small talk with… a guy you like
Here’s where it gets tricky. When you run into that mutual friend at a wedding and your heart does flip-flops, how do you talk to him without looking ridiculous? First, remember that he’s human just like you. You have nothing to prove. Second, you can never go wrong with questions—in any situation. Just use what information you know about the person or the environment you’re in to build a question.
“How do you know the [graduate/groom/bride/host]?”
“How was your [significant event] last weekend?”
“What scholarships are you applying for this summer?”
Try not to use close-ended questions, e.g., “Did you have a good semester?” This applies to all people you talk to—when you use yes-or-no questions, you create a stopping point for the conversation. Unless they follow up with a question, you’re in for an awkward pause. Stick with open-ended questions (how, what, why, where). But also do NOT fear the awkward pause! It happens to everyone. The mind takes approximately 15 seconds to formulate a thought. Give people (and yourself) that time.
How to gracefully leave a conversation
Perhaps you’ve asked the questions and had a good conversation—but aren’t sure how to get out of it. Things are starting to peter out and you sense a big pause coming soon. This is when you say something like, “Well, it was great to see you and learn more about your summer plans! I need to [grab something to eat/check in with my boyfriend/talk to the bride] before she leaves. Have a good night!”
It’s that simple. Take time to practice, give yourself grace and remember this is a lifelong skill! You will use the art of conversation no matter where you go.