Small talk is that polite conversation about insignificant or uncontroversial matters that brings strangers together. Whether you consider it a skill or an art, the ability to converse easily through small talk will open doors for new job opportunities and friendships. Even the shyest person can become a small talk professional through a little study and a lot of practice.
Spend a few minutes thinking over topics of conversation before your meeting or event. Consider the type of people you will be encountering and if they might have any particular areas of interest. For example, at a birthday party you might ask how they know the guest of honor. Or at an interview you could ask how long they've worked for the company, or what they particularly enjoy about their job. Yes, you can always bring up the weather or the local sports team, but those topics are a bit cliched. Study some current events to set your small talk apart and even allow you some insight into the opinions and interests of the person you're conversing with.
However, most people are uncomfortable with really controversial topics while making small talk. So do your best to steer away from politics, religion, gore, and other hot-button topics in your preparations and conversations.
Begin With A Warm Greeting
You appear approachable and kind when you begin with a nice smile, eye contact and a friendly "hello". If you already know the person's name, be sure to greet them by name. If they are new, hold out your hand for a shake and introduce yourself first. If you should know the person's name, but have forgotten, do not think it rude to ask again. Practice a little self-deprecation and a simple, "I know we've met before but forgive me for forgetting your name." Most people appreciate your honesty and will be happy to share again. And that honesty will save you from an awkward moment when a boss or friend arrives on the scene and you have no way of making introductions!
Learn To Listen
While you have prepared and offered a topic of conversation, or asked a good question, be sure you are listening to the response. Listening means you are able to offer a relevant piece of information, or ask a good follow up question. There is nothing worse than realizing the person you are talking to is waiting for you to respond and you have not been paying attention at all. Or that they are done talking and you have no idea what to say next. Awkward pauses in conversation are called that for a reason: they are awkward. Do your best to avoid them at all costs!
Active listeners also engage in a conversation with eye contact, nods, or soft "uh-huhs". They also aren't overly-eager to offer advice or solutions. If they ask your opinion or advice, then offer it, but don't be quick to solve people's problems.
You have had a nice greeting, an introduction, good conversation, interesting follow-up questions, and now it is time for the small talk to end. Be sure you have practiced this too! A hand shake is always a nice way to end a conversation, so is appreciation for what has occurred. A simple, "I really enjoyed meeting you," or "thank you for tell me about your trip" will usually signal that the conversation is done, and it is time to move on.
Just like it is time for me to move on and let you get to practicing. In no time you can master the art of small talk.