The content can be the weather or other current chitchat. The role small talk plays, however, is far from minor. It’s an important conversation starter and often determines if you and/or the other person want to keep talking – hence the opportunity to build a relationship – or make a quick escape.
Because the content may seem unimportant, you may think it unnecessary to prepare … and just wing it. That works for the few people who can think succinctly on their feet and then articulate their thoughts fluently and effortlessly.
Gender differences in communication can also be small talk hazards. Men have three main topics in their small talk repertoire: sports, current events, business/jobs. Women have hundreds and since they disclose more about their personal lives they may get blank stares from men when they start talking about children and spouses.
Seven Tips to help you Make Your Small Talk More Meaningful
- Fill your small talk arsenal. Get up-to-date on current news through whatever vehicle you use and then form an opinion so you can discuss it. It’s fine if you have a divergent opinion so long as you listen to others’ and remain congenial.
- Prepare a few questions based on the time of the year.
- Current business news
- Unusual weather
- College/pro basketball/football/baseball/hockey games and standings
- Movies and TV shows/ Oscar or Emmy nominees
- Questions/comments about the sponsoring organization
- It is generally advisable to steer clear of politics and religion.
- Practice by yourself. Talk to yourself in the mirror and watch your expressions and gestures. Are they appropriate? Do they need honing? Don’t imitate the U.S. president who raised three fingers when he was discussing two items!
- Practice with others. Try starting conversations with family, friends, clerks, neighbors, co-workers, wait staff, people in doctors’ waiting rooms, etc. Mentally record if you get the conversation started and if it goes in the direction you want.
- Listen better. Use your two ears and two eyes and one mouth to your advantage. Remind yourself of the proportion as you glance in a mirror at an event … in fact, every time you look in a mirror.
- Look confident. You automatically appear to be more knowledgeable and someone others want to get to know.
- Plant your feet.
- Hold your head high.
- Keep your shoulders back.
- Put your chest out.
- Hold your stomach in.
- Make direct eye contact.
- Observe and listen before joining a conversation in progress. Prepare your remarks and wait for an opening.