13 tips to get better at small talk

You throw a party and welcome the guests at the front door. Or you run into a vague acquaintance at the coffee machine in the office.

In such cases you often strike up a conversation. About nothing really, but that’s not the point. It’s about showing your social face.

“Don’t you think it’s cold outside too?”

“How do you know the party giver?”

“Are you here alone?”

You know, small talk. Not everyone is equally good at it. Some even hate it.

To help you out, we’ve consulted social forums Quora, Reddit, and other resources and pulled out the best tips. You can even get into the habit of exercising with strangers you’ll probably never see again, as research shows that chatting with fellow commuters makes people happier.

Read on to impress new acquaintances — and yourself — with top-notch conversational skills.

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1. Show interest in your conversation partner

The best way to keep a conversation going? Show interest in what the other person is saying, multiple Quora users recommend.

“If you’re not really interested in the person you’re talking to, you’ll notice it at some point. That is often the main reason why conversations bleed to death,” writes Kai Peter Chang. “So the first step is to change your attitude.”

One trick is to let the other person tell you a lot about themselves. “Let the other person talk more,” writes Anam Gulraiz. “People LOVE to talk about themselves.”

2. Ask open questions

If you only ask yes/no questions, the conversation often ends up dead. Encourage your conversation partner to tell more about his or her life by asking open questions.

“Open-ended questions often lead to much livelier conversations,” says Craig Weiland. You can be another guest at a party instead of “Are you here with family?” also ask: “How did you get to know the host?”

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3. Let your conversation partner explain things

“If a topic comes up that you know little about, be honest. Nine times out of ten, the other person will be happy to explain it to you,” writes Michael Wong.

If a topic comes up that you know little

This is also a trick to let the other person do the talking. Ask someone to explain what he or she means and you’re back in a few minutes.

4. Follow the news

Is there an important drink or birthday coming up? Follow the news in the days before. “Even the subjects that don’t really interest you,” writes Mark Simchock. For example, if a conversation threatens to come to a standstill, you can always come up with “Hey, did you hear that…” or “Man, what do you think about that…?”.

5. Share anecdotes

Say it especially if you recognize yourself in a story, says Ellen Vrana.That in turn encourages the other person to recall similar memories.

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6. Practice the FORM Technique

Robert Adams uses a mnemonic to make his conversations run smoothly, FORM (in Dutch FWVG):


• Do you have children? Where is your family from? How long have you lived here?


• What do you do for a living? How do you like that? Have you always been an acrobat?


• What do you do to relax? Have you been playing hockey for a long time? Where did you buy that necklace, or did you make it yourself?


• What has happened to the petrol price now? Have you seen those stocks go down that fast? How do you think the new alcohol taxes will affect the liquor stores? Do you know someone who recently lost their job?

7. Be honest

“There’s nothing wrong with just saying, ‘You know, I hate small talk, so let’s talk about something big?’” writes Derek Scruggs. Perhaps your interlocutor will also feel relieved.

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Scruggs recommends that you have some “big and personal” questions ready, such as, “What scared you today?” and “Are you happy with your current lifestyle?”

8. Copy good speakers

“Listen to comedians, listen to talk show hosts, listen to real people,” advises Edahn Small. Remember the kinds of questions they ask and apply them yourself. Listen carefully to how they deal with the other person’s answers and even how they use silences. Chances are they learned it the same way.

Listen to comedians listen to talk show hosts listen

9. Boost your conversation partner’s self-confidence

Flatter people to get and keep their attention, Joe Goebel suggests. “Try to make everyone you’ve talked to feel a little better about themselves afterwards,” he writes.

10. Practice with everyone you meet

Whether it’s the doorman at work or a fellow passenger on the train, practice small talk with everyone, says Rohan Sinha. In the end, you will feel much more comfortable starting and maintaining interesting conversations.

11. Use the ARE method

Andrian Iliopoulos uses a method by communication expert Carol Fleming: ARE.

• Find something you have in common right now. For example: “This is a really special cocktail. What’s in it?”

• Share something personal with the other person. For example: “I had the same kind of cocktail at a beach bar in Ibiza last summer, and I was totally blown away.”


• Encourage them to share something personal as well. For example: “I see you don’t like cocktails at all. You’re more of a whiskey drinker, aren’t you?”

12.Know that other people feel uncomfortable too

“You are not alone in feeling clumsy or shy,” Tammy Tangerine writes on Reddit. “Other people struggle with that too. It’s nothing to be ashamed of.” She adds that even people who exude a lot of confidence may struggle with the same doubts as you.

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Author: Jobly