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Does your small talk ever let you down – do you ever struggle to keep a casual conversation going?

How to Make Small Talk

For some people small talk and engaging in casual conversation comes absolutely normally – it’s as natural to them as breathing.  Nothing fazes them.  Is it nature or nurture, genes or upbringing – who knows?

What I do know for sure is that if small talk and casual conversation doesn’t come naturally to you then, from time to time, you find yourself at a disadvantage if yours is a life in business – especially if you aspire to be either a leader or a salesperson.

I’m one of those people who used to struggle with small talk.  I have never had much difficulty speaking when in front of a group, but for smaller casual conversations with strangers I used to have to work hard at it.  But not now – mainly because of a simple piece of advice from my Dad many years ago.

The 3 small talk subjects everyone likes to talk about

In ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’, a book which has dominated the bestseller lists since 1932, Dale Carnegie said ‘Speak in terms of the other person’s interests’.

My Dad’s simple advice took this idea very much to heart – he said: “If you ever get stuck for what to say next to keep a conversation flowing, son, always remember the three subjects that everyone wants to talk about – me, myself and I”. 

Never a truer word spoken – when you’ve got a tough conversational nut to crack, say with someone who’s reserved, someone who’s simply not interested in holding up their end of a casual conversation, or after a long exchange when chat is growing thin on the ground, simply remember this advice and turn the conversation to the topic of your conversational partner.  This is irrestible small talk.

Doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from; what culture or upbringing you spring from, or your mother tongue, we ALL like to talk about ourselves.

Keep the small talk flowing

When things dry up ask an open-ended question about the person you’re talking to.  Ask one that they’ll find easy to talk on – and be sure the demand more than a monosyllabic yes or no grunt. It never fails.

To build trust and comfort start with questions that require low commitment answers: “Where are you from?”; How long have you lived there?”; or “How long have you worked at…?”.  Then ramp it up a notch: “Where did you learn to make such compelling presentations?”; “What do you think is the best way to…?”; or “What’s your opinion on…?”

Then simply listen – like your life depends upon it.  A lot of successful small talk is really just good listening.  Say nothing and make no further contribution except to keep the conversational wheel spinning on the subject of your partner.  To keep them talking and make them go deeper with their responses simply prove that you’re listening by using little qualifiers like: “therefore…?”, “which means that…?”, and “for example…?”

When they slow down or appear to be drying up then seek further information on what they’ve just told you: “Fascinating, I never heard that before – but tell me how would you…”.

When you’ve drained one facet of them dry then simply ask another question to get things started all over again.

Being a brilliant conversationalist

If you ever sit beside me on a long flight and don’t want to talk then don’t worry, I won’t force you into it!

However, on those occasions when I meet someone who is determined to have a conversation with me I find this simple small talk strategy gets me more compliments like “you’re a great conversationalist” and “I found our talk really interesting” than those times when I do when I choose prattle away on those topics that fascinate me.

Try it – you’ll be amazed at the results.

How to use small talk to drive engaging conversations?

Share your best ideas in the Comments section below