• Small talk can exacerbate social anxiety or simply make us feel uncomfortable; however, doing it well can aid success in our personal and professional lives.
  • Get good at small talk by first asking questions; have a few generic questions handy to ask new friends or colleagues and tune in to their responses.
  • Also consider joining a group that you’re interested in, like a fitness group, sports club, or something else that brings like-minded people together; this will make conversation easy and enjoyable.
  • Avoiding sensitive topics can also help you get good at small talk; additionally, picking the right person to chat with can make all the difference.
  • Additionally, remember that practice makes perfect and come prepared by staying up to date on recent events or popular topics of conversation.
  • Finally, stop making it about you; a key to small talk success is focusing on the individual you’re engaging with, as everyone’s favorite subject to talk about is themselves!

Small talk is informal conversation about unimportant or easygoing topics. So, why is it so hard? Well, many of us suffer from social anxiety, which stems from the fear of being negatively judged by others. And even more of us simply feel uncomfortable when forced to converse with strangers or people we just don’t feel like talking to! That being said, small talk is sometimes necessary and getting good at it can prove valuable to our personal and professional lives. If you struggle with small talk, here are 8 professional tips that will help you to improve:

1. Ask questions.

First, ask questions about the individual you’re engaging with. It’s a good idea to always have a few questions handy. “The very best way to make fast friends out of new colleagues, acquaintances, or guests at a party is to ask questions and listen and share your own response to the same question,” explains Dana Kaland, Executive Coach and Consultant. “Have a few open-ended questions in the tool kit at all times so when you feel some social anxiety coming on you can draw from them. Surprisingly, some of the most basic questions are the best: Where do you live? What do you do? How long have you worked here? What are your weekend plans? How do you know the bride or the groom?” 

2. Join a group you’re interested in.

If you really struggle at small talk, or even get a little anxious in social settings, try joining a group of like-minded individuals “One good way to ease into small talk is to join a group you are interested in. Let’s say you love Anime cartoons. If you join an Anime group, you will be around people who like the same thing you do,” Kevin Lockett, author of The Digital Handbook 2020, explains. “Even if you don’t know what to say at first, someone will say something that will pique your interest and you will be compelled to show off your expertise. Meetup.com is a good place to find like-minded groups. You can also try Eventbrite, your local library, newspapers, or your local city websites that might promote groups or events that you like that could lead to a life-changing experience.”

3. Turn it into a game.

Another way to get good at small talk is by turning it into a game. Clay Drinko Ph.D., author of Theatrical Improvisation, Consciousness, and Cognition, explains how this works: “Making it a game will make us more inclined to keep trying it. I’m notoriously small talk averse, so I gamified it by turning it into a challenge. For one week, I had to chat someone up at least once a day and every single time I was in public. In order to get over my initial fears about talking to people, I had to remind myself that I just had to say something. It didn’t have to be good, interesting, or Earth-shaking. I just had to contribute. I asked questions, gave compliments, or just made observations. This opens the door for a conversation. Don’t force anything, and don’t have an agenda. Just make it a game, contribute, and let it go where it goes.”

4. Avoid sensitive topics.

Also, avoid sensitive topics that could spark a debate. “Avoid politics and religion because people can become defensive,” Anthony Babbitt, MS, explains. “However, if you are genuinely interested in learning more about their politics or religion, then ask away (but proceed with caution)! People do not want to feel attacked and will clam up instantly. You know you are good at small talk when you find yourself listening more than you talk. Small talk is about getting them to talk to you! And they want to talk to you! They are their own favorite subject in the world to talk about.”

5. Find someone in the same boat!

Talk to someone who has something in common. For example, when you’re in a large crowd where you don’t know anybody, try finding someone else who looks equally uncomfortable or unfamiliar with the crowd. Julie Christiansen, Registered Psychotherapist, explains this concept: “When you’re in a networking or large social event, look for the person who is as uncomfortable as you are and strike up a conversation with them. I usually start those conversations with something like, ‘You seem to be feeling just as uncomfortable as I do in this crowd…’ That typically gets a chuckle and immediately breaks the ice and makes it easier to connect because we immediately have something in common.”

6. Practice.

There’s no beating around the bush: If you hope to get good at small talk, you need to practice. “The most important skill of creating a launching point for relationships and professional networking is not passively mastered. You have to practice,” says Clinical Psychotherapist Kevon Owen. “‘I don’t like small talk.’ This is a sentence that I hear regularly… well, learn to. People don’t like things they don’t feel like they’re good at. Practice and see how it connects you to others. Restaurants, library, churches, work… all opportunities to hone those skills.” 

7. Come prepared.

You can further improve your small talk game by staying up to date on current events! “Small talk is very often centered around current and relevant events and topics. Make sure you’re aware of what is going on in the world and what might come up in the event that you will be making small talk,” says Certified Life Coach Jamie Bacharach. “Being armed with topical information will help the conversation flow and give you talking points that you can introduce to keep conversation going without much effort or thought. The less you have to think, the less stress you will feel and the more naturally your small talk will progress.” 

8. Stop making it about you.

Finally, to bring this plan for getting good at small talk full circle, remember that it isn’t actually about you. Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor Jenna Palumbo delves into this last tip: “One way to get good at small talk is to stop making it about you. After all, people love to talk about themselves. Most of my clients and even my friends or family who have said they’re horrible at small talk are also very focused on how uncomfortable it makes them feel. Then, they start to feel like they have nothing to offer the conversation and begin to shut down. If you focus on the other person by 1) asking questions and 2) really listening to the answer, then the pressure of small talk fades away because the focus is on someone else.”